Initiative to assist transgenders, widows, others

Identity proof, a ration card, birth certificate or even a bank account - acquiring these and more for sex workers, widows, single mothers, the elderly and other subaltern sections of the society can pose quite a challenge.

New Delhi: Identity proof, a ration card, birth certificate or even a bank account - acquiring these and more for sex workers, widows, single mothers, the elderly and other subaltern sections of the society can pose quite a challenge.

A bunch of spirited community workers have come together through a civil society initiative to helping the deprived sections of society negotiate with power centres and get their basic documents of survival.

"It is very cumbersome to get hold of the basic documents, even for a person from the mainstream society. The hassle doubles if you are from a deprived section. We help the sex workers community to attain these documents, not just for their own betterment but for a better future for their children as well," says Satyanathan, project coordinator of 'Single Windows'.

The 'Single Windows' project begun by Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR) aims at streamlining the sex workers community to find their standing in the society.

Numerous 'gender resource centres' set under the project in Bihar, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are being run-in-partnership with the Programme on women's Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (PWESCR) and the National Forum for Action and Convergence (NFAC).

"This project aims at a convergent delivery of government schemes and programmes to the stakeholders, especially those who are in no means to avail them on their own. Our volunteers work from the vulnerable habitats and ensure that the deprived settlements have day-to-day connect with the government," says Akhila Sivadas, the executive director, CFAR.

For 28-year-old Mahalakshmi, a sex worker the project has helped her attain an aadhaar card, identity proof and has got her children admitted into a school in Salem, Tamil Nadu with all the documents intact.

"It is difficult for people like us to get these basic documents and lead a normal life. We are always looked at with suspicion and distrust. It becomes a bigger agony when schools refuse to admit our children for lack of documents. Like any parent, we want a better future for our children," says Mahalakshmi, who harbours the dream of leaving her profession once she is financially sound. Murli Krishnan, a transgender and a community coordinator for the project details the institutional loopholes and says that without such initiatives, people like him will always remain on the periphery of development.

"Although the government has constituted welfare boards for transgenders, there are no clearly-defined provisions for MSM (men who have sex with men) categories. For MSMs to get TG welfare cards, they need to get a medical check-up which is often riddled with inaccuracies. While we are allotted single-person ration cards, we hardly receive them due to the lacunae in the implementation of the provision," says Krishnan.

Under 'Single Windows', the community workers develop a rapport with the government officials of district, sub-district and village levels; identity the vulnerable groups and make them aware of the various schemes they are entitled to.

When asked about the greatest hurdle of their job, the community workers cite apathy of the law-enforcers.

"The officials fail to recognise the fact that everything is a process. They feel their job is finished after making few rounds of the place and distributing forms for government schemes. What is lacking is the willpower to get things done and ensuring that every penny reaches the people who are in need," Krishnan adds.

While Krishnan and Satyanathan work for the sex workers community at Salem, Kashitai Jadhav is fighting a different battle for the community in Maharashtra.

"Poverty fuels the flesh trade. We cannot ask these women to leave the trade without providing them an alternate source of income. We have campaigned for the pension rights for elderly women in the profession. This way we can stop them from trafficking young girls," says Jadhav.

She says she herself has left the profession and has been working for the upliftment of the community in the cities of Solapur and Kolhapur in Maharashtra.
Jhadhav is currently pursuing the cause of anganwadis for the children of sex workers in the state.

"We are in talks with the authority to set up anganwadis, especially in the night for the children of the sex workers. We also organise regular health camps for the women to make them aware of the diseases prone to this profession. Free condoms are also distributed, keeping in mind safe health practises," she adds. 

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