Bangalore News: Sex workers use tech to beat pandemic blues | Bengaluru News – Times of India


BENGALURU: Mallika (31), who also has the street name Rani, has had a regular spot near the Majestic bus terminal for the past six years. She would ply her trade with travellers and locals and used her earnings to feed her two children. But the Covid crisis and lockdown left her out of work and penniless. She’s one of the many commercial sex workers who lost their livelihood due to the pandemic after social distancing and avoiding physical contact became a norm.
Well-paid, English-speaking sex workers made the shift to remote technology early during the lockdown. Conventional workers, those on the streets, have not been so lucky and almost driven into starvation. Now, they too are taking the tech route to make ends meet and some NGOs in the city are training them to handle smartphones for sex work, not just to attract clients but also stay vigilant with its safety features and tracking technology.
Most women cover faces during sessions; recording not allowed
Kurian George is a Kochi-based spice trader who used to frequent Bengaluru with his friends. He usually stays at a posh hotel in the CBD. They are friends with a courtesan who goes by the name Laila and her friends who meet George and his friends at his hotel suite for parties often. “It was monthly entertainment for me and my friends but the pandemic nixed all our travel plans,” he said.
He and his friends started engaging with Laila via with video-telephony app Zoom. She said: “This is my business and I need to hold on to my regulars or they’ll look for other options. During the lockdown, I began a Zoom session and sent invites to clients for single and group sessions.”
According to Laila, many co-workers also started online options and oneon-ones are often through Whatspp, Telegram or Kik Messenger while group meets are hosted on Zoom, Skype and Google Teams. The steamy sessions unfold often with women covering their faces with strict no-no to recording by the receiver. She accepts payment in advance through e-wallet options.
Elsewhere, a transgender person from Ulsoor (street name Saroja) is an active member on gay dating apps. “I used to stand on MG Road but Covid completely killed my livelihood. Then, one of my regulars introduced me to video chatting and helped me open an account on Paytm,” says the 36-year-old who has been meeting clients online through Whatsapp video. Saroja introduced three friends to online interactions and receiving payments through e-wallets in advance.
Survey among workers
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Solidarity foundation, a Bengalurubased NGO, conducted a survey among women sex workers on cellphones they own and their knowledge on smartphone usage. “We did among 100 workers, mostly from the lower sections of the society, and found many aren’t very savvy with smartphones but most received demands from clients to use it for online interactions,” said executive director Shubha Chacko. Her team has been training them to use smartphones not just for work but also safety through apps to send location information to peers. “They’re often secretive about their profession and use of smartphones is a double-edged sword. We teach them pros and cons and to remain vigilant and not fall for recordings or photography,” she adds. Nisha Gulur, coordinator, Karnataka Sex Workers Union, an initiative to tutor workers on smartphone usage to protect their livelihood has been planned.



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Sagar Biswas

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