iconimg Saturday, May 23, 2015

Press Trust Of India
Kolkata, May 11, 2009
The sex-workers of the city, who until last 15 years were "intimidated" by political parties to cast proxy votes and mobilise polls in many areas, have this time put forward a charter of demands to legalise their profession. Thirty-five candidates contesting the Lok Sabha polls have signed the charter of demands of sex-workers forum which asked for legalisation of the profession and formation of a government-recognised self-regulatory board, Swapna Gyen, an executive committee member of Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, which consist of around 65,000 sex-workers and thousands of associates, said.

The Durbar had demanded the Election Commission to issue voter ID cards for sex-workers and around 500 girls have so far been issued the cards as members of Usha Cooperative Society run by the Durbar, Gyen, a former secretary of the Durbar, said.

Referring to the plight of sex-workers in red light areas of the city in 80's and 90's, Bharati Dey, project director of the Durbar, said, "We were constantly bullied during the 80s and 90s when our identities as voters were never considered.

"All I was asked to do was to cast votes for as many people as possible wearing different dresses and mobilise at least 200 votes in my area for the party which wielded clout through clubs and local youth."

Another sex-worker Kaveri Sarkar echoed similar views.

"We were sternly ordered to carry sets of dresses and accompany the party boys on the poll day to different booths and if we dared to protest, we were threatened," Sarkar said.

There was never a request, but only a blunt order to arrange for votes and participate in proxy voting, she added.

There had been a sea-change in the mentality of the girls after the Durbar mobilised them on the core demand of right to livelihood around 10 years back.

"They have become vocal against any intimidation by local musclemen, agents, pimps and even clients and we have been coordinating with the police to stop use of force against the girls," Dey said.

Gayen, who put the figure of sex-workers living in the city at about 50,000, said that they have asked all girls to freely exercise their franchise and take up with the Durbar any case of threat or intimidation.

All though society's basic attitude towards sex-workers has not changed, but with the girls becoming more assertive it will be a tough call to take them for granted, she asserted.

Pointing out that the organisation had proposed deputation of sex-workers as polling personnel in certain booths after reports that the Election Commission fell short of 20,000 polling personnel, Dey regretted the proposal had fallen through.