The commercial sex workers of West Bengal are all set to establish Usha Multipurpose Co-Operative Bank across the state, which will have only men and women from red light areas as customers.
Initially, the bank would have four branches, the first of which formally opened its doors on Sunday with state municipal affairs minister Ashoke Bhattacharjee inaugurating it at Siliguri.
The commercial sex workers in Kolkata took the first steps towards this in 1995 with the help of Durbar Mahila Samannay Committee (DMSC), an NGO formed by former sex workers from the city’s two red light districts, Sonagachhi and Boubazar.
The Usha Multipurpose Co-Operative Bank would help sex workers with financial support for medical needs and their children’s educational funds. Starting with only 13 women, the co-operative bank presently boasted of over 12,000 members. According to DMSC functionaries, it was on the rise every day.
Enthused by the growth prospect, DMSC decided to set up more banks across the state. “No bank will allow sex workers to open accounts or give away loans. Moreover, where it needs an existing customer to introduce a new customer, it’s hard to get a person who will introduce a sex worker,” said Mamata Nandi, the co-operative bank’s secretary.
Nandi pointed out that till before the bank was set up most women would deposit their money either with gold traders or invest in various small time investors and would often end up being cheated.
DMSC claimed that Usha Co-Operative was the first of its kind in the world, with it meant only for sex workers. Mahasweta Mukherjee of DMSC said that after establishing the bank at Sonagachhi in north Kolkata, the committee appealed before the state co-operative department for permission to set up branches across the state.
The permission came in January this year and after the decision to set up the first four branches at Siliguri, Asansol-Durgapur, Cooch Behar and Contai in East Midnapore was taken.
“All these banks will be established in local red-light areas. The municipal affairs minister inaugurated the Siliguri branch on Sunday at the local Khalpar red-light area,” Mukherjee said.