There are 1,056 enlisted sex workers living in the brothel right now. Some 385 children live there with their mothers and 84 of them are under five years of age
Nasima, 30, has been working as a sex worker for fifteen years at Daulatdia brothel of Rajbari district, one of the largest brothels of the world. Sometimes she earns Tk700-800 per day. And sometimes she earns nothing for days.
She has a family to take care of in her hometown. She has an elderly mother, a younger sister who is speech-impaired and a teenaged daughter. Every month she has to send them at least Tk7,000 for their living expenses.
The brothel has been shut down since March 20, 2020, for an uncertain period – without any notice – to avoid the outbreak of COVID-19.
This sudden decision has thrown Nasima's life into uncertainty. She does not have any idea how she and her family will survive this pandemic without any money?
Feeling helpless, Nasima has simply surrendered herself to fate. Nowadays, she rarely talks with her family over the phone and spends most of her time watching television at her landlord's room.
Local authorities said they have locked the brothel as people from different places come here and can potentially exacerbate the coronavirus outbreak.
"Six out of five doors of this brothel have been locked and only one gate is open for emergency movement. Four police constables are guarding the emergency gate at a time for 24/7. No one can go out or get inside without any permission," said Ashiqur Rahman, officer-in-charge of Goalondo Police Station.
As the decision has been taken suddenly, the district administration of Rajbari had promised to help them primarily with a package of 30kg of rice and Tk2,000 per person.
"So far, we have received 30kg of rice, but they have not given us the financial aid yet. I do not know how I am going to cook that rice? I do not even have money to buy firewood," said Pata, another sex worker of the brothel.
She said she is buying groceries from the local market on condition of paying later. But she does not know when she would be able to pay them back.
Pata said she has children to take care of but she is not sure about herself - whether she would be able to survive the pandemic or not.
So far, the local authorities have provided some help for the sex workers of Daulotdia but that has not proven enough.
"The local member of parliament had helped them with some groceries – which were not enough for even a week. Some NGOs have come up with help and a few people have provided some personal donations but these are not enough for 1,300 people live in the brothel," said Farida Parvin, secretary of Daulatdia Mohila O Shishu Unnayan Sangstha (MSUS).
Rubayet Hayat, upazila nirbahi officer of Goalondo, said, "We have given a certain amount of relief for now. We are discussing the promised financial aid with the district administration. We will distribute the aid as soon as we receive the money."
"There are more needy people than sex workers who are living under the poverty line. The sex workers rather are financially more stable," he added.
He said 1,056 enlisted sex workers are living in the brothel right now. Some 385 children live in the brothel complex with their mothers and 84 of them are under five years old.
Ashek Hasan, additional deputy commissioner (general) of Rajbari, said, "We might not be able to help them financially as we do not get enough aid and there are many needy communities like transgender and the bede people. So, the relief that we have given is the best that we could help with."
Abul Khair Md Maruf Hasan, deputy secretary (relief 1) of Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, said until March 30, 2020, they sent 300 metric tonnes of rice and Tk9,00,000 for Rajbari district and has ordered local authorities to help the people of the largest brothel, as soon as possible.
However, he admitted that it is not possible to tackle this pandemic with this little amount of aid.
Ataur Rahman Manju, coordinator of the rights group Mukti Mahila Samity, said, "There might be a maximum of 200 sex workers who might have saved some money. Others are living here from hand to mouth. Their room rents have been waived but it does not ensure their food. They badly need at least Tk200 per day."