Till few days back they were content being tagged 'commercial sex workers'. With their quest for governmental recognition as an industry, they would like to be called 'entertainment workers'. With the desire to be an industrial strong work force, Binodini Sramik Union (BSU) or the Union of Entertainment Workers of India was formally launched in the city on Tuesday.
Formed under the aegis of Durbar Mahila Samannay Committee (DMSC) of Sonagachhi, Kolkata's biggest red light district. BSU would take up the cause of not just sex workers but also other marginalized entertainers and performers like bar dancers, Jatra actors, Natis, Bahurupees and Chhau dancers.
To create the right platform, BSU is organising the All India Conference of Entertainment Workers or EC 2007, where bar dancers and folk performers would converge to discuss their social and economic rights. The conference would be held at Rabindra Kanan in north Kolkata from February 25 to March 3.
BSU joint convenors Bishakha Naskar and Govinda Saha pointed out that as entertainment workers, BSU members are seeking the government's recognition and acknowledgement of demands like eight-hour day and other benefits. "We believe that as sex workers we provide entertainment and sexual pleasure to people and like other entertainment workers, we use ideas, emotions and sense organs to make people happy," Naskar said.
For Saha, demand for industrial recognition is expressed through select words from dialectical materialism and management jargons. He believed it was common knowledge that sex workers' entertaining customers is "a form of intimate entertaining communication, involving subtle and complex combinations of gestures, language and relaxation." "However, the ruling social conventions and beliefs fail to concede the status of sex workers as entertainment workers. We should put an end to this hegemony of upper classes over our working class consciousness," Saha said.
Naskar found 'marginalisation of classes' an effective weapon used by society for ages. "Some entertainment sector workers like sex workers remain socially stigmatised and legally near-criminalized by the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (ITPA). Recently the bar dancers of Mumbai were robbed of their work by an Act passed by Maharashtra Assembly," she said. She pointed out that other targets include Tamasha artists of Maharashtra, Nat in Rajasthan and Bahurupee in Bengal and other parts of eastern and northern India. "They have been declared lewd, along with Jatra in Bengal, which has been attacked for being 'obscene' just because they belong to the backward classes. Even Bauls are being persecuted by some communal elements," Naskar commented.
Due to a long history of castism and governmental policy of divide and rule, the entertainment sector workers have remained mostly dispersed, fragmented, immobilized and disunited, Saha stated. "We thought of forming this union under these circumstances so that we can unite all the traditional and modern entertainers like commercial sex workers, bar dancers, Baul, Nachani, Jhumur and Chhou dancers of Bengal, Nat of Rajasthan, Tamasha artists of Maharashtra and Nautanki artists of north India, Devadasis of Karnataka and circus performers. We hope to join the international movement of entertainment workers with BSU," the joint convenors stated.
According to Naskar, BSU would attempt to bridge the gap between cinema and TV entertainment workers, who bask in glory, prestige and wealth and those who fail to gain the limelight, living outside media glare. "We want equitable economic, social and political status for all entertainment workers. Our demand is that all entertainment workers should be recognised, enacting a special labour law for them," she said.