The pandemic has affected lives all over India. The rampant second wave unravelled inconsistencies on many levels in the country. Santoshee Mishra in her documentary ‘Mumbai 400008’ brought out the untold story of the impact of Covid on the already weary life of sex workers of Mumbai’s red light area. The documentary captures their struggle to survive in the testing phase of the pandemic.
“Mumbai 400008 - A story of betrayal, pain and desperation” depicts how 7,000 plus commercial sex workers from Kamathipura, Falkland Road, Faras Road went penniless in lockdown. As the trade of prostitution, which is totally dependent on physical intimacy and touch, was ensured to be locked down strictly by the Mumbai Police. These women had to struggle for basic amenities.
Santoshee Mishra in her documentary brings out the grass-root realities of the impact of Covid-19 on these women. The women of Kamathipura not only suffered from scarcity of water and sanitation but also witnessed helplessness, depression and lack of emotional stability. The documentary becomes relevant in today’s time as it brings out the reality of two issues, one being the deteriorating conditions faced by sex workers in India and on the other hand the position given to them in society.
The documentary showcases the lacunae in the system as thousands of sex workers could not get any food assistance during the pandemic from the government. The nights of Mumbai city have never ever faced shut down, the first ever lockdown in the prostitution hub in Kamathipura forced commercial sex workers to even beg for food and it did not limit only to begging, when the food packets were distributed, the patrolling police had beaten up sex workers too.
The film talks about journeys of each commercial sex workers and their problems cropped up in pandemic. How they were burdened with room rents, medical expenses, electricity bill, cooking gas or kerosene along with children’s school fees and none reached to fulfil their needs.
It also highlights how despite the ruling by the Supreme Court of India of providing financial assistance, food grains, masks and sanitisers for 9 lakhs sex workers and transgender on the account of Covid-19, failed due to lacunae in the functioning bodies to reach out commercial sex workers.
Moreover, the documentary also highlights how human trafficking and not voluntary reasons forced these women into this trade. The peak of the pandemic crisis involved ghastly truths as aggressive trafficking commercial sex workers being forced into flesh trade by their blood relatives.
The documentary focusses how the commercial sex workers, despite being integral part of the society, remain invisible both for society as well as government. It also depicts on the struggle of commercial sex workers to get recognition rights of ‘informal workers’ in the society. While Covid-19 made people realise that life is unpredictable, it also showed that those at the margins would always be neglected, be it the daily wage workers or the sex workers of Kamathipura.