Andhra Pradesh had witnessed a huge surge in the number of covid cases during the second wave that hit the country in the first half of the year. To date, the state registered a total of 19.6 lakh cases and over 13,000 deaths. It also meant that almost 1.2 lakh sex workers in the state were left with no alternative source of livelihood and were at the mercy of the government to avail basic amenities like food and shelter. The situation was tougher for the sex workers of Andhra Pradesh who were also the sole breadwinners of their families.
Most of these sex workers take up this profession to escape from poverty. But as the business came to a standstill because of the pandemic, these women were left with no source of income. This further pushed them into the debt trap as the only alternative left for them to pay for food, shelter, and medical expenses, was through borrowing money, mainly from private lenders and microfinance institutions. Most of these sex workers already took loans during the first wave. The second wave worsened the situation with 70 percent of them forced to take bigger loans with high-interest rates mostly for COVID-19 treatment.
A survey was conducted by Vimukthi, a collective consisting of survivors of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation based in Andhra Pradesh, in which the study looked at the borrowing patterns of 116 women during the first wave and 142 women during the second wave (including the 116 women from before). All these women were sex workers working in the districts of Krishna, Guntur, and Prakasam. The survey found that during the lockdown period of the first wave, 99% of the 116 workers had taken loans and were still repaying those loans as of June 2021. During this period, the average loan amount borrowed by the sex workers surveyed was Rs 52,350 (with the minimum amount being Rs 5,000 and the maximum amount being Rs 4.3 lakh).
Among the 142 sex workers of Andhra Pradesh surveyed during the second wave, 99 took a loan during the lockdown period in 2021, many of whom were still repaying their recent loans. During the second wave, large amounts were borrowed for COVID-19 treatment which ended up costing around 3-4 lakhs for some of the affected workers. Most of these workers have children below the age of 18 or aging parents or family members dependent on medication. S.Meharunissa, state convenor of Vimukhti, urged that the state government should provide a special package for the sex workers to support and help them out of their debt traps. Also, HELP Secretary N.V.S. Ram Mohan suggested that the medical and other facilities provided to migrant laborers should be made applicable to sex workers too, as per the Supreme Court orders.