Lalita Tai is 45 years old and is a social worker at Muktangan Sanstha, an NGO based in the Beed district of Maharashtra. Also a former sex worker, Lalita is employed by Muktangan Sanstha to spread awareness, represent former sex workers (FSW) and provide necessary services to the FSW community in her locality. However, since the nation-wide lockdown has highlighted devastating inequalities within Maharashtra, Lalita has been doing much more.
She has recently been working on a project that involves procuring Aadhar cards and PAN cards for former sex workers under Muktanagan’s care. The project recently lost its funding but Lalita has continued to financially support it out of her own pocket since then.
She recognised that during the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, many sex worker communities lost their livelihoods and were unable to access food packages once the essential goods had run out. With guidance from Dr Girija Thakur from Swasti, Lalita was able to go through the Tehsildar and procure free groceries for between 200 and 250 people in the community.
She also recognised that there were a number of people that were issued a BPL ration card by the Government, but were not able to receive these groceries. Lalita then wrote a letter of complaint on behalf of the people not receiving rations, obtained signatures from 25 people and submitted it to the Tehsildar. The letter of complaint had such a great impact that not just 25, but over 250 people, including those who were not ration card holders, were able to receive groceries from the ration shops.
She also recorded videos of shop owners who refused to provide groceries to certain groups of people and threatened to show this to the Tehsildar and have their licenses cancelled, upon which the store owners then complied with Lalita’s requests.
With assistance from Muktangan, she devised a barter system where she procured extra stock of watermelons from field owners and exchanged this with those that had excess oil, spices and other grocery items.
She recognised the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) in the community and by contacting hospitals and NGOs that provided vocational training, was able to provide 200 people with protective masks and sanitisers.
She educated 25 people living with HIV (PLHIV) about proper hand-washing and sanitation practices. She also coordinated with antiretroviral therapy (ART) centers to procure ART medications for these PLHIV, free of cost. When a fellow sex worker passed away she, with the help of other women, collected Rs.50/- each from her neighborhood houses and took care of her final rites.
Lalita Tai is a beacon of hope in a very difficult time for marginalised communities in India. Her courage and commitment to helping those less fortunate is more important than ever.
Contributors: Tishya Desai, Aniket Gupta, Girija Thakur