The Supreme Court on Monday urged the Centre and State governments to make immediate provisions for monetary sustenance, supply of food and basic amenities to sex workers amid the pandemic without insisting on identity documents such as ration cards.

“They are are under severe distress now, something urgent has to be done. This deals with the survival of lakhs of people… You (Centre and State governments) should do something without waiting for our directions,” a three-judge Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao said.

In Delhi, sex work with face masks and hand sanitisers

The Bench said relief measures should not be restricted to only those who approach authorities for help. An effort should be made to reach out to them, the court indicated.

“See whether from your end you can give some directions under the Disaster Management Act…” Justice Rao addressed Additional Solicitor General R.S. Suri, appearing for the Centre.

The Bench said that authorities may consider taking similiar steps for granting relief to sex workers as were taken for helping the transgender community amid COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.

Pandemic norms put Bhopal’s sex workers in a bind

The court scheduled the case for next week, asking the States to come ready with their proposals to take care of the community.

The Durbar Mahila Samanway Committee, the country’s oldest collective of sex workers, had approached the Supreme Court for support amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The collective said sex workers were entitled to live with dignity with access to food, shelter and social protection. It said the pandemic has ravaged their lives and livelihoods and left the community impoverished.

Desperation forces sex workers to risk COVID-19

The collective is a party to proceedings in which a panel was set up to improve the living conditions of the community. One of the recommendations, which won the court’s approval was to provide them with ration cards, voter ID and bank accounts.

However, the statement said these documents have not been issued to them in compliance with the 2011 recommendation. It said with no government identity documents and no earnings, the national lockdown since March has been especially tough on the community.

Many in the community are single mothers unable to afford an education for their children in the current scenario. Attempts to secure alternative livelihoods have failed due to social stigma, the collective said.

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