The Way You Look at How COVID-19 Change the Escort Service in Kolkata

Sonagachi in North Kolkata is a maze of labyrinthine passageways lined with multi-story buildings and escorts living in communal apartments with as many as ten people. Many of the 5,000 brothel-based sex workers, many with children, live in Asia’s oldest and largest red-light district (excluding another 3,000-4,000 who commute daily) from the suburbs, rural Bengal, and the neighbouring states of Bihar, Jharkhand, and Odisha. The brothels used to receive 10,000–15,000 customers on a daily basis. That was before the epidemic.


Escort service in Kolkata, on the other hand, is not only economically and socially marginalized, but also culturally. They are members of fringe organizations, ostracized by mainstream society despite various pro-rights initiatives, as well as laborers who earn a living through the labor of their bodies. And, with Sonagachi apparently closing its doors during the shutdown, how is the Independent escort in Kolkata surviving?

The nationwide lockdown imposed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak has disproportionately impacted everyday gamblers and other marginalised groups. Female escort in Kolkata, on the other hand, are not only economically and socially marginalised, but also culturally. They are members of fringe organisations who, despite several pro-rights movements, are shunned by mainstream society, as well as workers who make a living by using their sexuality.

The Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC)—translated as the Unstoppable Women’s Collective Committee— Importance of escort service, works as much as their resources allow them to purchase dry rations for Sonagachi’s sex workers on a daily basis, including rice, oil, pulses, and key vegetables like potatoes and onions. Masks and sanitizers are also on the list, but there aren’t enough of them.

Prostitution and politics

The cornerstone of escorts marginalisation is prejudice against the nature of their employment, which is perceived as “lowly” or “indecent”—guided by a favoured moral discourse. An allusion to Sonagachi or its local moniker nishiddho polli (forbidden territories) would make many a Bengali bhadrolok-bhadromohila blush, and yet, ironically, a priest is required by ritual to visit brothels in order to collect punya mati (blessed soil) for the creation of Durga idols in Kumortuli before every Durga Pujo.

Sanitation and sexuality

Despite the fact that prostitution is illegal in India, Sonagachi (and comparable districts in Mumbai and Delhi) have thrived under successive communist and pro-poor governments. COVID-19, which transmits through human droplets, requires social separation as a coping strategy, banning human-to-human contact within one metre. The nature escort labour, however, is a performative of the intimate.

How will they reorganize themselves in the aftermath of the pandemic? Will hand and oral hygiene, as well as sanitization requirements, be incorporated into traditional beauty rituals? Will masks and gloves, like condoms, become a must for protection and survival? “In reality incall or outcall escort service, all intimacies outside of the (hetero) normative family will be looked at with mistrust,” Ghosh says. All of our lives will be altered as a result of this, but sex workers’ will suffer the most as a result of the current societal stigma, poverty, and the nature of their employment. “

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