By Arnab Mitra
Durbar (Durbar Mahila Samanwaya committee) is one of the largest NGOs in India that delve into the issue of sex workers and their well-being. The organization kicked off as a help group essentially concentrating on the health issues of the sex workers. However, as time passed, Samarajit Jana, the man behind the organization, broadened its horizon, taking over the responsibility of looking into their security which often gets wavered owing to the increasing number of assaults against them.
The organization embarked on its journey on 12th of July 1995 with 12 sex workers as its active participants. Now, Durbar has more than 80,000 members all over West Bengal and has its own co-operative bank, schools, cultural organizations and sports academies for the sex workers.
NewsGram spoke to the director and founder of the organization Dr. Smarajit Jana, the Secretary Bharati Dey and some sex workers to get a detailed understanding of the way Durbar functions.
Arnab Mitra: How did the idea of Durbar come into your mind?
Smarajit Jana: Durbar is a Persian word which means ‘the noble court of a ruler’. For me, this is a noble profession as these women work for survival. But they are still deprived of the societal acceptance which is why I formed Durbar to fight for their cause.
Arnab Mitra: It has turned out to be one of the largest NGOs in India. How did this happen?
Smarajit Jana: It’s because of the help of some concerned citizens and sex workers of Sonagachi. The sex workers for their own sake gradually became a part of Durbar and we were able to keep a check on the different crimes against them.
Durbar has its own hostel in Baruipur that has been built for the children of the sex workers. Over here, we train the children and get them enrolled in different schools. We have our own sports academy and in 2014, 16-year-old Rajib Roy got a chance to play with the premier English football club, Manchester United.
We have our exclusive cultural institutions named Kamal Gandhar, where we let the sex workers and their children participate in varied activities ranging from music to drama. We have our own co-operative banks and recently, the state government has congratulated us for this initiative. We not only focus on sex workers, but also on the deprived class at large.
Recently, we have opened one of our units in Purulia district to help the poor people in this area. In this way, we are gradually expanding. Now, our main focus is to legalize this trade.
Arnab Mitra: In India, prostitution is still illegal. What steps have you taken to legalize it?
Samrajit Jana: We have a plan to discuss this matter with the ministry in Delhi after the monsoon session. We already had a talk with some of the ministers and they have assured us that they will look into the matter.
Arnab Mitra: Do you think that the sex workers will gradually get a place in the society?
Samrajit Jana: I can say that people’s views have changed and I congratulate the media, different organizations, and above all the concerned citizens. Because it is due to them that today Sonagachi and other red light areas are no longer abandoned places.
Arnab Mitra: Trafficking is quite common in the village areas of India. Are there any such victims in Sonagachi?
Bharati Dey: There is no such issue of trafficking here. Every new girl in this trade has to appear before the board and it’s mandatory to submit an x-ray report through which we detect her age and on the basis of the report we issue the Durbar employment card.
Arnab Mitra: According to reports, many customers want to have sex without condoms. How do you make condoms mandatory for the customers?
Bharati Dey: We campaign round-the-clock so that customers can understand the benefits of using condoms. Even we also provide free condoms from our kiosk for the poor people. But at the end of the day, it all depends on the understanding between the customer and the sex worker.
The sex workers said that after Durbar came into play, lots of things have improved; people and the authorities don’t dare to torture them. They are sending their children to schools, they have their own banks, medical units, cultural organizations and these people are getting a taste of fresh air, and life is not a prison for them anymore.