by BISMumbai Correspondent

In the devastating aftermath of the COVID-19, amidst trains leaving for West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar and with few trains cancelled, many have annulled their rent contracts and sold their possessions to make the exodus journey out of Mumbai, the city of shattered dreams, to their native villages. Stranded in different parts of Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, and other places enroute, alternate accommodations are hard to come by. Distress and despair abounds. Even if those registered have embarked on the train travel, the train halts are primarily for technical reasons such as guard or engine-motormen change. Canteen cars are missing, platforms deserted, and life survives on food packets handed over at the station of origin. Destinations are a long way off.

Those walking on foot, those forced to return to their native places because of lay-offs, those who have decided that their time in Mumbai is done, those on the long journey home are all people in plight-flight, fleeing away when they can. The pangs of hunger, thirst and excruciating pain writ large on the faces of the helpless impoverished women, men, and most children, is a sorry anger-arousing sight.

Networks of Mumbai samaritans, inclusive of police personnel, health-caregivers, medical aid providers, are trying to provide food sustenance either with cooked food [khichdi] or with dry-fruits, fruits, bread and the like. Multiple challenges abound.

Yet, the plight of the women in the flesh trade, [commercial sex workers], operating out of their rented rooms, brothels, on the streetside or otherwise, are more affected than most, with the associated social stigma. Backlash for these women has always been customary. Housed in skeletal dwellings, living in areas seemingly hushed at daytime and enlivened through the night, ostracised by all, patronised by many, yet surviving against the odds, the women have been largely ignored and this global pandemic has worsened their situation, no end. Exploitation, extortion, and livelihood halted without alternatives, the worst of the impoverished poor are transgenders, those engaged in prostitution [women & men], and most sad of all, their children. Clearly stay-home, stay-safe, stay-healthy is not a privilege these can enjoy!

Don Bosco Development Society [DBDS] Mumbai had earlier coordinted a food -provision kit distribution to the transgender community and commercial sex workers in the Pimpri-Chinchwad area. Don Bosco Nerul is exploring ways to help these most affected, in collaboration with Rotary Club of Mumbai at Queens Necklace, Alert India and the 'Mumbai Responds' Network. Deploying social outreach staff and volunteers, DBDS and Don Bosco Nerul are trying in their own ways to network and make further inroads to reach these on the fringes of society. Substantial food-ration kits distributed to these heavily exploited by 'agents' and 'touts' will hopefully make way for eventual rehabilitation and promising alternatives rather than auxillary illusions.