Poverty, discrimination, hopelessness, lack of knowledge, disrespect, and HIV- closely revolving around the life of a sex worker, these terms give us a deep insight into the prevalent status of sex workers in India. Current Indian laws attempt to hide prostitution from the public, while allowing them to practice it privately. “Practicing in private” sounds too strange? Do they enter this profession by choice? Do they get to avail general rights, just like any other working citizen of our country?
Well, you would rarely come across any woman who has taken up this profession by choice. Lack of employment, the realization of being unwanted at home, the hopelessness often force them to take such a drastic step. While some might have been sold into this trade by their husbands, or fathers, others might have been born into it, thus having no other option.
Most of these women neither have any hope nor do they have any knowledge about their rights to basic living. Even if they are rescued, they have no place to hide, for they are unwanted at home. Struggling for existence, sacrificing their dreams, self respect, their families, all for the need of money, a major segment of these workers are not even aware of the impending danger of HIV that they are exposed to. The multitudes of workers represent a threat that cannot even be imagined because the danger is multiplied due to mass ignorance about the disease, in both the trade and the clientele. While Mumbai and Kolkata are said to be the biggest centres of this trade, over 50% of the sex workers in Mumbai have been found to be HIV positive.
The extremities that the sex workers undergo, and the brutal violence by the Police is probably not known to all. While harassment and violence are the key words in their sufferings, if they are ever arrested by the Police, they are simply forced to submit to the policemen’s demands, or bribe their way through. Young girls seem to be the most vulnerable in this act.
Even after working to earn their living, just like any other citizen, and toiling their way through, why should they not get their basic rights and recognition in the country?
Giving a voice to these issues, and uniting them all for demanding their rights, certain organizations have come up with AIDS education programs and vocational training classes. One such project aimed at educating women about AIDS is the ASHA. Comprising of sex workers, who go into the brothels as peer educators, they strive to bring a change in the society. The model AIDS prevention group in the country is the Sonagachi Project. Working with males as well as females, this project has made a tremendous impact on the lives of thousands of sex workers, some of whom have been rescued, and given a new lease of life.
In fact, the BBC reports that sex workers in southern India have responded to abuse and mistreatment by taking up a new skill: karate. There are reportedly nearly 3 million sex workers in India. The women say they were so fed up with abuse that they approached a local community group for help.
The organizers hope the course in the ancient self-defence technique sends a message that violence against sex workers must stop.
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