#PeriodPaath: Here’s What Sex Workers Go Through During Periods!

Editor’s Note: This post is an entry for the #Periodपाठ writing contest, a unique opportunity for you to write a letter and stand a chance of winning up to ₹30,000! The contest is organised by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC. Find out more here and submit your entry!

To,

Mr Bhupesh Baghel
Chief Minister Chhattisgarh

cc: Mr T.S. Singh Deo
Health Minister Chhattisgarh

Sir, I am writing this letter to bring to your attention the miserable condition of sex workers when it comes to menstrual hygiene.

Sex workers, as we all know are those have sexual intercourse for money. Very few do it voluntarily and almost all of them do it because of helplessness or because of being forced into the business. And also, there are some “unique” forms of prostitution like the Devadasi system.

But, in all the manifestations of prostitution, sex workers are treated as untouchables by the society. But, the worst thing is that they are treated as untouchables by the authorities also! They live in shady, dingy areas; almost all of them  work literally as bonded labourers; they hear disgusting remarks everyday all the time by everyone; their children live a life of misery; they suffer from various kinds of genital infections and other serious diseases like AIDS. But, the worst thing which they suffer from is the lack of menstrual hygiene.

Sir, we live in a progressive society and in a welfare state. We abide by the doctrine of “Parens Patriae” which means the state is the parent of the country. I want to raise a question – Is it ok for a parent to leave her daughter only because of the fact that she is a sex worker? And that too, when she had entered that profession out of helplessness or was made to enter that profession forcefully!

Sir, they are also human beings. They also have human rights. They also have right to life and to live with dignity. They also have right to say “NO” when they do not want to indulge in sexual inter course. They also have the right to expect compassion and sensitivity from the authorities specially the police, the lawyers and the judges whenever they are harassed or shamed or are claimed to be of loose character.

When, I was watching documentaries of red light areas, almost all the girls confessed that they want to do many things in their life but their life has become hopeless!

There are millions of sex workers in India and obviously Chhattisgarh is no exception. Though our state don’t have big red light areas like that in Kolkata (Sonagachi), Mumbai (Kamathipura) etc. but we do have small red light areas like “Dal Gali” in the capital city of Chhattisgarh. Not only that, so many girls from Chhattisgarh and specially the tribal girls from North and South Chhattisgarh are trafficked outside the state. So, we need your immediate attention towards this matter.

The statistics of menstrual hygiene in India is horrifying! There are 336 million menstruating women in India, of which 36 per cent use disposable sanitary napkins estimates the Menstrual Hygiene Alliance of India (MHAI). Not only that, the following collage of the  images complied by Down to Earth gives a shameful report card of our country when it comes to menstruation.

Recently, in June 2018, Chhattisgarh came into the limelight when a news report revealed that a village in Chhattisgarh still practices the orthodox tradition of banishing women to an outhouse, which is also called “MC house”, during her periods. I cannot believe that such things still happen in our state.

A lot of schemes like the Menstrual Hygiene Scheme, SABLA scheme, Swachh Bharat Mission etc. are there. Apart from that NGOs like Dasra, Goonj etc. are giving their all when it comes to menstrual hygiene management. Still, the plight of our girls is miserable. If this is the plight of “normal” girls then imagine the situation of sex workers who are more vulnerable and are more prone to victimisation. They are in need of more care and attention but still they are the ones who are ignored by everyone!

No one can understand what a woman goes through during her periods. Menstrual cramps, the constant stress of getting stains on clothes, heavy bleeding and what not.

When, even taking a walk becomes a problem during periods, we cannot even imagine how does a sex worker manage to have sexual intercourse during those days. I want to quote a story from Quora which was also  posted by Goonj on their page. A question was posted on Quora  “Do prostitute work when they are on their periods?.” To which one lady, who was in the profession answered, “If we didn’t, it would be a 1 week unpaid vacation every month of which you are running a business or you have a career or just any job that you are dedicated to, it’s not practical.” She also mentioned, women use birth control to stop their periods or use a sponge to stop the flow of the blood.

Not only that, they live in shady and dingy places, where there they do not get adequate sunlight. A lot of them use cloth, which, obviously does not dry and which lead to infections etc.

Sir,  on the occasion of World Menstrual Hygiene day, the Women and Child Development Minister of Chhattisgarh, Mrs Anila Bhedia said that “women should not consider “period” as shameful, but they should be proud of it”. But, sadly the society does not  think that prostitutes are human beings. The society thinks that they are like animals who are inferior, who do not have rights, who do not have a will, who do not have a choice.

It is a matter of shame that our mentality is still regressive and we are still judgmental towards them. For the government, every single life should matter. And sex workers also have a life. They are strong, independent women who have dignity and self respect.

Sir, it would bring a significant change, if you take cognizance of this matter. I would like to thank you for sparing precious minutes of your busy schedule to read this letter.

Yours Sincerely,

Pragya Uike

Law Student, Hidayatullah National Law University, Nava Raipur-Atal Nagar (C.G.)

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A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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