Sex Workers in West Bengal Demand Respect from Politicians

Asia Pacific Regional Correspondent

Sex Workers in West Bengal are using the upcoming election to remind politicians they need to keep their promises. Sex workers may exercise the ‘none of the above option’ (NOTA) on ballots to tell politicians that they are not happy with them. Many politicians have not shown commitment to taking action on the demands of sex worker-led organisations, as reported by The Statesman.

Bharati Dey, speaking on behalf of Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) and the All India Network for Sex Workers (AINSW) explained why they are so frustrated: “whenever elections come, political parties make tall promises, but none of them is put in to action. We have been regularly placing a charter of demands for the last several years, but nothing has come out of it.”

The Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) represents over 150,000 sex workers in West Bengal. They have made it clear they want “concrete” actions and measures taken this time.

As reported by The Statesman their demands include:

  • Pension rights for retired sex workers;
  • Removal of Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (ITPA);
  • Decriminalisation of the profession, covering sex-workers under labour laws and;
  • Setting up of a self-regulatory boards to stop minors from being forced into the profession.

“None of these demands has been met by the respective state and central governments. But these are the basic rights which a sex worker needs to be given to be able to lead a proper life,” said Mahasweta Mukherjee of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC). Parul, a 35-year-old sex-worker of Sonagachi, the biggest red light area in Asia, said, “minorities and backward classes get the attention which we do not. We have family members who are also voters. So we should not be ignored, or else we will go in for the NOTA option,” she said.

The AINSW, a national network of sex-workers across 16 states and representing nearly 5 million sex workers have also spoken out.

"We will send letters to political parties listing our demands and raising issues that concern sex workers and their families," they said.

The concerns of sex workers are often ignored by politicians. By drawing attention to their right exercise the ‘none of the above’ option, sex workers are showing they have power. The media statements have sent a clear message to society and politicians about the need to be accountable to all members of society, including sex workers.  

As Minati Dutta said in 2014, “I am a citizen of this country. Voting is my right, sex worker or not. My dream is that my son should be an engineer. The political parties shamelessly beg us for votes before elections. They even tell us which button to press: ‘Amader dekhben (take care of us)’. I tell them you take care of us and we will take care of you.”