Right to sexual pleasure as a fundamental right — ever heard of a slogan like that? To hear it, believe it and even debate it, you can attend a mega meet in Kolkata this month.
The All India Conference of Entertainment Workers (AICEW) starting on Feb 25 is billed as the biggest and first such meet of entertainment workers that blurs the line between sex workers and showbiz people as providers of entertainment.
For seven days, the culturally vibrant city will see sex workers, gays, lesbians and transsexuals share the podium with eminent filmmakers, actors, writers, rights activists, health officials and politicians to debate the right to sexual pleasure as a fundamental right.
Mahesh Bhatt, Goutam Ghosh, Rituparno Ghosh and even Election Commissioner SY Qureshi will debate various issues with sex workers.
The topics will range from "Festival of Pleasure" to "Entertainment in Development", "Entertainment in Revolution" and, of course, "Sexual Rights and Relationship".
The meet has been organised by the Binodini Shramik Union, an arm of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), the 65,000 strong apex body of sex workers in West Bengal.
"The fair will go on along with cultural events and seminars. We expect about 10,000 people in the festival," convenor Gobindo Saha said.
"People all across India and many from abroad are coming to the meet to discuss and debate issues," he said. "We are already flooded with demands for stalls at the fair and we hope this meet would be a grand success," he said.
"It is common knowledge that sex workers entertain their customers and that their work is a form of intimate entertaining communication involving some very subtle and complex combinations of gesture, language, play and relaxation," said Bharati Dey, a sex worker turned director of the WHO-funded Sonagachi HIV/AIDS Intervention Programme.
"Yet in ruling social conventions and beliefs, most modern societies fail to concede the status of entertainment workers to sex workers. It is high time we put a stop to this hegemony of the ideology of our rulers over our working class consciousness," said Dey, the first sex worker in India to head a WHO project run from Sonagachi, the famous red light district in Kolkata.
The Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, the labour wing of which organises the meet, is a forum of 65,000 sex workers based in West Bengal.
It fights for the recognition of sex work as work, of sex workers as workers and for a secure social existence of sex workers and their children. Durbar demands decriminalisation of adult sex work and seeks to reform laws that now restrict the human rights of sex workers, tend to criminalise them and limit their enfranchisement as full citizens.