“Oh fuck”, or its equivalent in vernacular, was the first reaction of sex workers in Kolkata’s Sonagachi when news broke the government has scrapped Rs 500 and Rs 1000.
When the demonetisation news reached them on Wednesday morning, some of them were still counting the money they had earned overnight and it had some Rs 500 notes as well.
The sex workers, numbering around 500, in the famed red light area of Kolkata, feel the new rule has hit them the hardest because they have always lived without an identity card or a bank account – a must to get their earnings legitimised.
“I wanted to send money to my family but I don’t have any valid ID proof which the bank is saying is mandatory if I want to deposit or withdraw money,” said Rimi Dey, a sex worker in her late 20s.
While people are busy exchanging their currency at the banks and post offices, this small community of the sex workers is agonizing over how to save their hard-earned money.
“We never had any ID proof and this never caused any problem to us, but today we are left with no other option than to ask people to help us to exchange the currencies,” said Tina Dutta, sex workers committee head in Sonagachi.
The sex workers in Sonagachi have informally categorised themselves into “prime, average and street” based on their rates that range between Rs 200 to Rs 10,000.
The women in the prime group own a flat and have their own customers. The average, don’t own a flat and charge up to Rs 5000, and the ones on the bottom of the pyramid solicit their clients on the street.
The sex workers in the prime and average categories are the ones who end up receiving Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes from customers. To deal with high-paying clients, some of the sex workers have opened ledger books.
“I have opened a khata for my regular customers who pay in Rs 500. I now note down their names and let them pay later with the new currency notes so that I don’t have to get the money exchanged,” said Bharati Dey, who is in her early 40s.