It was like any other Tuesday in March 2020. By sundown, Rajini was at her marked spot in Kandrika in Andhra Pradesh’s Vijaywada district, hoping to catch early birds. With Covid-19 having recently been declared a pandemic and the number of cases spiraling, customers were few, and sex workers like Rajini had their work cut out. She was yet to find her first client when the street began buzzing with frenzy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced a nationwide lockdown, restricting the movement of 1.3 billion people for 21 days. Rajini knew right then her life was about to change. Fifteen months since, she’s neck-deep in debt and has tried to take her life once.
Millions of sex workers lost their livelihoods for months on March 24, as India went into lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The National Network of Sex Workers, in collaboration with Maharashtra-based NGO Sangram that works for the rights of sex workers across India, conducted a survey of 2,352 sex workers. It found that of them, a total of 1,198 fell into debt as of March 24, 2020. With incomes drying up, sex workers were forced to take loans, often from informal moneylenders, non-banking financing companies (NBFCs) and microfinance institutions (MFIs).