Nude pics, video chats, no kiss: SOPs for sex workers

5 months ago 108
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She cleans the tiny room in her brothel with soap water more than she is used to. Then, instead of chatting with her friends when she is free, this 32-year-old sex worker, like many others in Pune’s red-light area — Budhwar Peth — goes online to learn how to indulge in erotic talks, striptease and phone sex.
* 25-year-old Laila Das in Kolkata’s Sonagachhi says clients make weird requests. Apart from asking for nude photos, some even want to see girls wearing “lal-paar saree” (white saree with a red-border). Pandering to them, she says, is getting her clients back again.
* For the last two months, Lakshmi has hardly stepped out of her home in Chennai. But every night, after her children go to bed, the 35-year-old sex worker puts on makeup before wandering up to the terrace to make surreptitious calls to her clientele.
Sex workers in cities across the country are back to work, and how. If masks are a must for them and their clients, many are taking to striptease and dancing to keep the business running. But what’s bringing in the moolah in the time of virus — and keeping them safe from Covid — is e-sex, as many sex workers take to their smartphones for sex chats and video sex. Many are even getting trained in this new “art.”

Sex workers are trying new ways, even in cities that do not have a red light area. In Bengaluru, some social organisations are conducting classes for women to make better use of technology, mainly to accept payment through e-wallets.“Most of the sex workers in Tamil Nadu are ‘hidden’ as there is no designated red light area. Some women say that they find it inconvenient as they are in their own homes with their partners and children,” says Shyamala Nataraj, executive director, South Indian AIDS Action Programme.
In Chennai, the more ‘privileged’ among them, who have access to mobile phones and internet, are turning to phone sex and virtual sexual encounters to keep regular clientele interested. “Many clients make WhatsApp video calls to sex workers. If they like her, they strike a bargain,” says Gajalakshmi, former peer educator. Money is transferred into the sex workers account, using GPay or any other digital platform.
Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee works for welfare of sex workers in Kolkata’s Sonagachhi. Its founder Smarajit Jana says the lockdown has resulted in spike in virtual sex. “A big number has gone for phone and video. Some want to engage in question/answer sessions. Others ask for videos,” says Jana. In Bengaluru, a small section of sex workers has taken the technology route through Zoom, Telegram, WhatsApp and Skype and accepting payments via e-wallets. They say the internet now is the only hope of retaining their regulars and possibly finding new ones.
Those who are back to the red light areas are living with masks, sanitisers, thermal guns and gloves as they get as physically close to clients as possible. DMSC in Kolkata is promoting “no-touch sex” with sex workers indulging in conversations, dancing or going for a striptease.
(Names have been changed to protect identity.
With inputs from Priyanka Dasgupta in Kolkata, Priya Menon in Chennai, Ardhra Nair in Pune & Petlee Peter in Bengaluru)

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