Value of pandemic: Moneylenders drive intercourse employees to the brink in Telangana & Andhra Pradesh | Hyderabad Information
VIJAYAWADA / HYDERABAD: Unemployed for over a year, dozens of sex workers in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are suddenly at the mercy of local donors. Desperate for funds, many have succumbed to these abusive pawnbrokers’ demands for high interest rates – up to 45% per month – and pledged the small valuables they had to borrow meager sums of money or even indulge in their sexual demands.
TOI spoke to at least 12 of them who fight such harassment every day. As the lockdown overrides the shutters of their daily trading and financial institutions – since most of them don’t have relevant documents – they say that local moneylenders are ironically their only option in the hopes of their regular customers returning to their doors. Despite the many difficulties of the job, these women admit that their usual dhanda is more financially rewarding.
“At least it saves us from the clutches of these men who like to profit from our misery,” said Jyothi *, speaking for her other sisters from Yadagirigutta, where prostitution is a key business. Now that the customer queue has dried up, they have taken on temporary jobs – tailoring, housemaid, daily betting – to run their homes and meet medical requirements. But even then, there is often not enough money to buy three meals.
On the other side of the border, in Vijayawada, the situation is much worse for people like B Haritha *. The 37-year-old had to keep her hard-earned gold – valued at £ 45,000 – as collateral just to receive £ 10,000 to run her home. “Even though I am paying the interest back on time, the moneylender threatens to sell the gold and tell my family that I am a sex worker if I deny him sexual favor,” said a distraught Haritha. In the same boat is K Nirmala *, 24. She is burdened with a loan of 35% interest per month and is forced to sexually oblige her lender to prevent him from revealing her job to the family.
CAUGHT IN THE CLUTCHES OF ABUSE
Out “I borrowed 8,000 from my homeowner at 45% interest. When I couldn’t repay, he took my TV and fridge with him. I asked for time, but he didn’t listen and insisted on sexual favors. When I denied, he threw me out of the house, ”said Karimunnisa * from AP.
More than 300 km away in Karimnagar, even Mala’s fate has taken a similar turn. “I’m trying to find a new house, but they want an advance and I have no money. The little I make from a housemaid’s job goes towards paying the 30,000 I borrowed from three people. I can’t even reach out to my clients as everyone wants me to do a Covid test first … I don’t know what to do. ”
While some organizations have moved forward to help these women with basic needs, it is clearly not enough. “The situation is pathetic. Although we have supported 130 sex workers and provided rationing and financial assistance over the past six months, this problem will only be resolved if we can find an alternative type of income for them. The government should support these women and help them build small shops and develop skills, ”said N Rammohan, secretary of Help, an organization dealing with victims of human trafficking in AP.
(* Names changed to protect sex workers’ identity)