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But from the mids, the rains became irregular and crops wilted in the fields. Her father became deeply depressed, and some four years later, he died after suffering chest pains. A little later, her mother, younger brother and her own daughter died from malnutrition. Her husband had already left due to the shame of being unable to feed his family.
Like Aruna, Raji Ratlawat, another sex worker, also remembers parched land and dying crops in her village in Mahbubnagar district. But it was an outstanding loan that forced Raji to migrate to the southern city of Hyderabad. She describes how the nine acres of land that had sustained her family for centuries became their downfall. Between and , they dug two bore wells to irrigate their fields, but the groundwater level kept on falling, leaving only thick mud.
When the crop failed, there was no way to pay that loan. She came to Hyderabad in Eight years later, she is still paying off the loan. Aruna, Raji, Shyamala, Nirmala, Laxmi, Sharada, Akshaya, Nikhitha, Nilamma, Meena - the list of women pushed into sex work here by the consequences of an increasingly harsh climate goes on. Nowadays, she also advises the state government on related issues.
The worst-hit district is Anantapur, where as much as 70 percent of land is degraded. It also has the highest number of farm suicides of any Indian district - over 4, in the past decade alone. Shashi Kumari, 22, a sex worker since she was 15, hails from Anantapur. But seven years ago, the landlord they worked for committed suicide after consecutive crop failures. Many of these women will eventually reach Hyderabad, hoping for greater financial opportunities - the main reason why the number of sex workers is rising by 15 to 20 percent every year, he explains.
Shashi came to the city in after a client told her she could earn much more there. Now, I can make up to Rs. Her income may be higher in town, but much of it goes on rent and commission to the broker who brings her clients. Without any valid proof of identity, she cannot access basic services such as free healthcare, neither can she vote nor open a bank account.