Sex Workers are likely to press NOTA button in election

Sex workers have been demanding better lives and opportunities for their children and their family but time and again they get only empty promises from politicians.

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DMSC meeting

Kolkata: Frustrated with the hollow promises of the politicians during the hustings, sex workers from across the country are planning to press ‘None of The Above (NOTA)’button during the general elections in order to give vent to their grievances.

Around 5 lakh sex workers have come together under the banner of All India Network of sex workers asking the candidates from various political parties to look into their demands or they would be compelled to press the NOTA button if their pleas are ignored, “The political parties have already released their manifestos but still we continue to meet them. They have agreed to look into our issues if voted to power. We have told them to raise our issues during hustings. We would extend our support to those who would fight for our rights or else would press NOTA if they continue to ignore us,” said Kusum, president of the countrywide network of sex workers based in Delhi.

Sex workers have been demanding better opportunities for their children and indiscrimination in educational institutions, “Our children face discrimination during admissions in schools and other educational institutions. We want our children to get proper education so that they can connect themselves with the mainstream society. The politicians should ensure that our children get proper education.

“Our children are in no way below par than others,” said Satabdi Saha, a sex worker in Sonagachi in Kolkata, one of the largest red light areas in the country.

Quite true to her words, the children of sex workers are performing exceedingly well and had taken part in the homeless football world cup held in Poland in 2013. They also undergo vocational training to sharpen their careers at Durbar Sport Academy in Baruipur in the outskirts of the city.

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Satabdi also accuses the politicians of being a mute spectator while being harassed by the cops under the garb of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, “The cops unnecessarily harass us and extort money from us in the guise of ITPA. They arrest or dispatch us to shelter homes where we are forced to survive in horrible conditions. Even they seek bribes to release us. The provisions of ITPA should be relaxed for us and sex work should be decriminalised,” she added.

Sex workers who have grown old also demand pension for them, “Pension is helpful for people who cannot work due to old age or disability. We also find it difficult to continue to work after the age of 45. We demand pension for us,” said Putul Roy, 55, who has been in Sonagachi since 1992.

Durbar Sports Academy

A section of sex workers, however, share a different thought. They say that the amendment to ITPA can itself serve the purpose rather than offering pensions, “The law bars any premise to be used for prostitution. We demand an amendment in it as that would help the old and retired sex workers to rent their premise for prostitution and earn their livelihood. We do not need any pension from the government. Our earnings would definitely be more than the pension,” said Kohinoor Begum, 56 who has been a sex worker since 1985.

She also demanded their inclusion in Union labour department under the category, ‘entertainment labour’.

Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), a non-profit working for sex workers in Bengal demands the countrywide implementation of Self-Regulatory Board (SRB).

SRB plays a pivotal role in sending the girls back to their home who have either been sold or brought forcefully in the red light area.

“The government should come forward and start SRB across the country because it is the best tool to prevent and minimize trafficking in sex work. The board that constitutes sex workers and also members of the civil society decide that whether the girl has been brought to the business forcefully or as per her will. It also takes into consideration whether the girl is an adult to join the sex trade.” “The government should implement SRB across the county,” said Dr Smarajit Jana, founder of DMSC adding that 860 under-aged girls and 227 unwilling women have been sent back from 2001 to 2018.

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Many living in the alleys of the red-light area don’t have valid identity proofs, “We came here many years back and have no way of going back to our original homes to get back the proofs required. We cannot even reveal to our family members about our work,” said Sima Roy who works in Howrah district.

The DMSC card, a copy of the passbook of Usha Bank, a cooperative bank run by sex workers and may be a PAN card along with a letter by local MLA or MP helped them get a valid card after several rounds at election commissions’ office for years.But that has changed now. “The public representatives seldom take our cause. We only see them during the polls taking out a rally in our alleys and seeking votes with folded hands. But they soon forget us after polls and return only when they need votes. We would press NOTA if they continue their indifference towards us,” she said adding that lack of documents makes it difficult to avail any social welfare schemes and even getting their children admitted to reputed schools.

Fully aware about the importance of their votes, political leaders are not taking their threat lightly. “We have always tried to stand beside them whenever they have faced any issues. We would look into their grievances and try to raise it on a suitable platform,” said a senior Trinamool Congress leader requesting anonymity.

The Opposition in the state, particularly, the BJP trying to gain political mileage have asked sex workers to vote in its favour rather than pressing the NOTA button. “We would urge them to vote in support of BJP rather than pressing the NOTA that would be the waste of their vote. We would definitely look into their problems if voted to power,” said Sayantan Basu, State General secretary of the BJP.