The oldest profession in the world has to play by new rules. Condoms were mandatory in the brothels of Pune's Budhwar Peth area, but in the time of the novel coronavirus now masks and gloves are also a must during any acts of intimacy. Clients have been asked to use hand sanitisers and disinfectants. Some of the sex workers have bought thermal scanners and foot-operated sanitiser dispensers and placed them outside their premises. Also, the women here have been advised to ask patrons to take a shower before any sexual activity and not to entertain any client having a cough or fever.
Budhwar Peth, known as the red-light district of Pune, supports the livelihood of around 3,000 sex workers. Pune has rapidly risen up the corona chart with more than one lakh eighty thousand patients. Like the rest of the world, the pandemic has changed the lifestyle of the people living here. The charm of the city is all but gone, say some locals. Changes are visible everywhere, including in Budhwar Peth.
Necessary precautions are being taken by the administration, NGOs and sex workers living here to prevent spread of the infection. Not a single case was reported for 4 months after the lockdown. But, in the last few days, more than 40 cases have been identified. However, now only 15 active cases are left. Thankfully, no one has died yet.
Precautions during lockdown
The locality was declared a restricted area as soon as the lockdown took place. Authorities blocked every road leading to the red-light area. A team of police was stationed here 24/7. Prostitution that took place here was completely stopped. Along with this, sanitation was done from house to house. Most of the women living here and their family members were screened. If any symptoms were found, they were given medicines. Arrangements were made to bring the women who wanted to go home from Budhwar Peth.
The process that started in March still continues.
In view of the regular crowds in the area, it has been made mandatory for the residents to wear masks. In order to strictly follow the rules, the municipal corporation's team raids the area and imposes fines on those who roam around without masks. As a result, despite being a crowded neighbourhood, so far there are very few cases here.
Just after Unlock-1, business here resumed with rules in place. However, it had to be closed for 15 days around the last week of July after 5 positive cases were reported. Now things are back to normal, somewhat. According to a survey by NGO 'Saheli Sangh', which works here, most of the sex workers are back to work. The NGO together with the corporation officials has prepared a standard operating procedure (SOP).
SOP for sex workers
The SOP for sex workers includes things like identifying primary Covid-19 symptoms, to use of sanitisers, masks and gloves, which are now as mandatory as condoms. There are steps to be taken before and after the visit of a customer. Some brothels have also purchased temperature guns. A few are gearing up to resume work and are even ready to explore options of services like 'phone sex'.
(With inputs from Vaibhav Sonawane)