Sex workers of Sonagachi demand basic labour rights

By Arnab Mitra

OG14019_DURBAR_POSITIVE CHANGES_SONAGACHHI_14JULY2015_M SAMANTAKolkata: Central Government’s proposal to legalize prostitution resulted in a controversy in the state. People can be seen debating on whether or not legalizing prostitution will lead to an imbalance in the society.

The sex workers living in one of the largest red light areas of India, Sonagachi disagree with the common perception. They believe that if the government withdraws the ITPA (Illegal Trafficking Prevention Act) and legalizes prostitution, then it will save thousands of sex workers from the harassment of police and local pimps. OH13382_SEX WORKERS_DURBAR_13 AUG 15_M SAMANTA

To know the real reason behind their demand of legalizing prostitution, NewsGram talked to some members of Durbar. They answered unanimously that they are labourers and they are working to sustain themselves, and this is reason enough for the government to either withdraw or amend the ITPA act.

OG14001_DURBAR_POSITIVE CHANGES_SONAGACHHI_14JULY2015_M SAMANTAArnab Mitra: The government is planning to legalize prostitution. How will it benefit you if it is implemented?

Sephali Roy: We have five basic demands:

a. Basic Labour Righta.

b. Right to Governmental Health Scheme.

c. Pension to all sex workers.

d. Withdraw or amend the ITPA act.

e. Our children should have the right to the property of their mother, and the identity of their mother should be granted as their identity.

These necessary demands can only be fulfilled if the government legalizes prostitution.OG14006_DURBAR_POSITIVE CHANGES_SONAGACHHI_14JULY2015_M SAMANTA

Arnab Mitra: Do you think that the Government needs to withdraw the ITPA act immediately?

Purnima Chatterjee: At present, there is hardly any instance of trafficking in this red light area. So we are not doing any illegal business, and whatever we do is only to meet our basic needs. It is our request to the government to stop seeing us as criminals. We are humans too.

Arnab Mitra: Do you think that rape and molestation will be curbed if the government legalizes prostitution?OH13367_SEX WORKERS_13 AUG 15_M SAMANTA

Chaya De: The instances of rapes only highlight the mental sickness of the society. It was there in the past and will be in the future. Nothing can curb the demons of the society.

Arnab Mitra: What steps have you taken from Durbar’s side to raise this issue?

Gita Das: In 2006, we first started our movement to demand basic labour rights. Now MPs from different parties have come forward to support our cause and we are hopeful that the Modi government will implement the act to legalize prostitution as soon as possible. We have high hopes with the ruling government as the power rests with them for now.OH13377_SEX WORKERS_13 AUG 15_M SAMANTA