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Occupy GB Road

columns Updated: Oct 29, 2011 23:24 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Indrajit Hazra
Hindustan Times
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Unlike the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Occupy GB Road one hasn't really taken off. One possible reason for this may be the fact that no one's been unduly affected by the professionals working from Delhi's illustrious red light district. No job has been lost, no savings wiped out because of any sex worker doing her business. But the movement splutters on.

I met one of the organisers of Occupy GB Road, a gangly man whose wrist I had first mistaken to be the stick holding up the placard he was displaying. Sitting in front of the office of Triveni Needles Pvt Ltd - manufacturers of quality ball bearings - he told me that the media wasn't interested in the Occupy GB Road movement because of the nexus between media organisations and the sex industry. (He did admit that precious time and energy was lost at the beginning when the campaign was called Occupy Swami Shraddhanand Marg.)

I was a bit taken aback by what the man told me. I was aware of the media-politics nexus, the media-business nexus, and even the nexus between some sections of the media and LexisNexis, the company with the world's largest database on legal and public records-related information. But a hand in latex glove relationship with the sex industry? Surely he was being too paranoid?

After all, there are those regular news and feature stories about the plight of sex workers and the nasty business of human trafficking that keep appearing and winning journalism prizes. If anything at all, I would have presumed that the media was doing a decent job of highlighting the travails and tribulations plaguing a particularly shadowy labour sector in this country.

"That's exactly the problem. These stories glorify the whole thing!" the gangly man erupted even as a shifty-looking chap wearing kohl looked me up and down and walked past us. "This is a demonstration against lust and the breakdown of moral values." He went on to tell me that when the Anna Hazare campaign against corruption started - and, for some reason, his definition of corruption is even wider than Hazare's - there was a feeling that, "Wow, things are going to change. Anna is going to push for all kinds of laws, and we are going to have a different kind of moral system, and we are going to take these immoral lowdowns and bring them to justice." Even young people seemed very positive about the campaign. "And then this feeling that Anna's a bit of a gutless wonder crept in, and now we're despondent again."

But what do the Occupy GB Road demonstrators, all seven of them, specifically want? It turns out that they want Itpa - the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act - to be amended, and not be the flim-flam law allowing prostitutes to practise their business privately even as they can't legally "solicit or seduce customers in public". They also believe that by making clients punishable for conducting "sexual activity in proximity to a public place", the law has been diluted and the focus shifted from the real culprits. I saw two of the gangly man's compatriots across the road adjust a banner that read, 'We are the 99%', possibly referring to the notion that only 1% of Indians can be defined as prostitutes, while the rest are potential clients. "But the bigger war is against lust," the gangly man said stabbing the air with his placard that read: 'Don't let anyone do to you what the government is doing to India.' It took me a while to work out the message, but once the penny dropped, I must admit, it wasn't a bad one.

Returning to his theory about why the media refuses to pick up the issue, he told me to open the old copy of this newspaper I was carrying under my arm. Guiding me to the business section - the lead story 'GDP will slow, inflation will ease: Pranab' didn't seem to have anything to do with the sex industry - he pointed to the bottom half of the classifieds ads on the back page. I was a bit stumped. Mypad, the "Rs6,990 onwards" Android-based 3G, tablet? No. He repointed to the item next to it under the 'Health and physical fitness category' in which someone called Kavia offered 'Russian escorts, Indian models, Afghani, UK-USA (every type of girl selected).'

He was right. There is a media-sex industry nexus and that explains why Occupy GB Road has been such a disaster. And why greed is so much more easy to get righteous about than lust.

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