CHENNAI: Over the past decade, almost every piece of literature that spoke about how AIDS spread as rapidly as it did, never failed to decry the large part that ‘truckers’ had to play. As floaters who travelled the length of the country, spending long hours on highways away from family and with access to cheap prostitution, lorry drivers and cleaners fit the profile of the high-risk bridge population perfectly.
But this year’s Behaviour Surveillance Survey says otherwise. According to the findings, the number of truckers and helpers (TH) who paid for intercourse dropped drastically from 45.1 per cent to 28.5 per cent. Also the number of truckers who admitted to condom use was an impressive 95.6 per cent, indicating that safe sex is on their minds.
The reason for this drop is attributed to some introspection, says APAC-VHS Project Director Dr Bimal Charles. “For a long time we had to talk to people in trucking terminals about the high infection rate of AIDS because of their habits. But after a point of time, they realised the importance of safety and took it upon themselves to make a difference in their community.”
He goes on to speak about a group formed at a truckers terminal in Krishnagiri by people who live off associate businesses. “Mechanics, cleaners, shopkeepers and others have formed an association to tell truckers not to indulge in unnecessary paid sex as well as to educate them about the risk of sex without protection,” he adds with pride.
Another reason for the decrease in hiring prostitutes is that the nodal government agencies have identified a correlation with better highways.
A TANSACS official reasoned that once the highways were improved, truckers preferred the option of driving non-stop and gave truckers terminals a miss. “Even for them (truckers), paying sex workers is a major expense and when they can avoid the temptation, they do,” he said.
Provision of truck lay-byes on the highway where they can catch a wink or a much-needed break, have given them that option, without the temptation or risk. Highway patrols keep tabs on these lay-byes to ensure that no ‘settlements’ come up near these spots.