CFSWs And Their Workers’ Rights

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Photo by Ben Sutherland

What about the stigmatized profession of sex work is? Is it the effect of work of past life as per ‘Karma Theory’(theory of Work) of ‘Vedas’ and ‘Purnanas’? According to the Indian thought, we nurture the theory of ‘karma’(work) which is the result of past life or earlier past of the life. The Karma theory stands for the law of cause and effect applied to the human life and action.

Prostitution is a complex form of social relationship in morality, ethics, the pattern of economic inequality, gender relationship, etc. is interwoven farther to form a multidimensional, multilayered institution. From a historical survey, it was found that the first-generation sex workers (CFSWs) of Kolkata, were linked to upper caste widows and deserted wives who, after becoming victims of extremely adverse circumstances ended up as sex workers in red-light areas. But later on the vast majority of the female commercial sex workers(CFSWs) were recruited from depressed castes driven off from rural areas by frequent famines and extreme poverty.

After independence the government of India enacted a law, namely the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 as amended in 1978 to implement the stringent restrictive provisions rather than some measures for its eradication without any firm steps. But the threats of deadly disease – HIV/AIDS were turned the heads of all(government, policy makers and so forth).  Because female commercial sex workers(CFSWs) are ‘high risk’ intermediary group through whom the disease is transmitted to various other sectors of society. Thereafter, they are receiving attention aimed at prevention and restricting the spread of the deadly disease. But the measures taken might have alerted society about the existence of such groups. But recruitment of the CFSWs is a continuous process. There is no measure to restrict it because poverty and girl trafficking are at an overwhelming stage. In this connection, the social activists and the civil-society development organizations (NGOs) including the sex worker organizations raise voices or organize movement for facilitating the workers’ rights for CFSWs. But what would be their human rights that do not get sincere attention which we might get from their daily working and living conditions.

In a study, it was observed that  CFSWs of Bowbazar red-light area of Kolkata (45 houses located at Premchand Boral Street and 16 houses at Nabinchand Boral Street at the heart of the Central Kolkata under the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (Ward number-48) and it lies under the jurisdiction of Muchipara Police Station) were operating their trade in a typical condition. The area is overpopulated and congested one, which is apparent from the presence of milling crowds on the street till late at night. The two or three storied buildings on both the sides of the street have about 16-20 unventilated small rooms, which are almost completely dark, even during day time. These are rented by the CFSWs from brothel owners (male or female brothel owners known as malkin) who operate the sex business and receive a share of the earnings from CFSWs at the rate of half of the total earning a day or a fixed rate per client per hour or on monthly rental basis. The rooms are used for multi-purpose activities, such as sex business, cooking and as living room shared with the husband/male partner(babu) and children. The rooms are very old, damp and are badly in need of renovation. In the open place, there is a common toilet. All the boarders use the common toilet and bathing place is also open. Two or three separate broken and creaking staircases from the open space of the building interconnect various floors of the buildings. It is again linked with two or three entrance ways of small and narrow passages, which are occupied by the CFSWs during their time of soliciting clients.

From the study, it was also gravitated that about 60% of the CFSWs had on identity of their citizenship and that’s why, they were not eligible to avail the services of government or various benefits provided by governments. The policies and programmes undertaken by the governments or other development agencies, for them, had been concentrated on the prevention and control of HIV/AIDS. But rehabilitation measures, specifically for retired CFSWs did not exist. When sex market rejects they had to beg or they had to die in hunger.

Ninety eight percent of them shared that they did not clearly know the purpose and essence of workers’ rights in their trade. What benefits, they might gain from it was hidden to them. They opined that they were submerged with their stigma as sex workers for which they were separated/isolated as ‘dangerous outcaste’. Even, their children were also suffering from their born stigma of sex workers’ children. They had little passage to the larger society or in the public life. They needed a peaceful survival without any harassment within or outside their community. They argued that it was the agenda raised by some people who were not of their own community. When they were asked about their movement for facilitation of the workers’ rights, they deliberately expressed, it was none of their businesses. Sometimes, they joined in this movement as they used to get money. They also expressed that there were many people they observed who came to sale their story for the public and they enjoyed benefits from it. They shared that they need a treatment as human being. No other benefit was their demand because when they entered into the trade, they lost their life. There is need of human dignity and justice. Their survival in the dark corner of society is the biggest problem of human rights. In our society, we find that the laws/acts are inappropriately applied because the advantages/benefits usually enjoy by others beyond the actual beneficiaries.

Harasankar Adhikari Kolkata Based Independent Social Worker



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