Sex Workers At Sonagachi Are Fighting For A Cause For The Society That Marginalises Them

Posted on July 9, 2015 in Sex Work, Society, Taboos

By Pallavi Ghosh

According to the official account shared by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee’s (DMSC, an organization of sex workers) spokesperson, Bharati, the chances of unprotected sex are higher when customers are under the influence of drugs or substance abuse. She elaborates that the prevalence of drug abuse is higher among customers than sex workers, they tend to compromise on safe sex.

durbar mahila samanwaya committee
Filmmaker Gautam Ghosh with members of the DMSC. Image source: Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee/Facebook

Sex workers of Sonagachi, Asia’a largest red light area, in Kolkata have joined hands against drug use by deciding to launch a campaign against them. The step comes as a much needed intervention against a growing menace in India. According to a news report, statistics reveal that around 25,426 people have committed suicide due to drug and addiction related problems within a decade. The United Nations (UN) estimates that 2,00,000 deaths take place globally in a single year due to drug abuse.

The DMSC began as a forum constituted entirely of sex workers and their children in 1995. However, the group of people involved in the creation of this forum have been active since 1992 in HIV related programs. The current campaign is also related to HIV awareness. Given their marginalized status in the society, it is indeed commendable that the Sonagachi brigade has taken a leap forward in initiating change in the society.

The Indian legal system does not criminalise prostitution per say. Thus, prostitution is not illegal. But one can face criminal charges for soliciting, pimping, prostitution in public, and owning a brothel. The grey area that exists because of the existing legal framework has its own advantages and flipside. While the clause on solicitation lacks clarity and can be, and is used to prosecute sex workers, the lack of a criminal clause against the profession does not label them as criminals.

However, it is often the larger society that prosecutes these people through a morality trial. The morality argument usually blames the service providers for the supposed depravity that sexual service is thought to be. The thought of it being like any other service-oriented profession is side-lined. This is despite having contrary examples across the globe. Even in England, which is usually characterized as the old-world moral country, prostitution is legal.

Whether prostitution should be legalized has opinions for and against it. However, it is indeed refreshing to see as to how these sex workers, themselves marginalized, have walked the extra mile when it comes to taking up a cause that includes people even outside their community as stakeholders. Their pro-active move helps us understand and realize the benefits of co-ordination and co-operation among varying interest groups who share different causes. Moreover, in terms of minority rights politics, the network and level of relations between various marginalized groups becomes crucial in affecting change.

The worth of any intervention is determined by the scale of the potential impact it has; and an anti-drug use campaign is crucial, especially in a country where statistics reveal that every day 7 suicides are caused due to drug and addiction related problems.

What is even more alarming is the fact that while recent trends show a decline in the spread of HIV cases in the country (although still alarmingly high statistically), the graph for drug use and deaths because of drugs and addiction show a steep rise. Awareness campaigns like these, thus, will go a long way in combating the twin devils – HIV infection and substance abuse – in the long run.