Kolkata's sex workers have geared up to pressurize political parties for recognition of their profession and acceptance in society.
In the red light district of Sonagachi, which falls under the North Kolkata Constituency, the sex workers under the banner of Durbar Mahila Samanya Committee have placed a charter of demands before each political party of West Bengal in the ensuing elections to the Lok Sabha.
The main demand of these workers is application of labor rights for their profession.
Besides, they have also sought acceptance of their profession by the society, government affiliation of sex workers, non discrimination of their children or family members and freedom from police oppression.
"In West Bengal, there are 70,000 sex workers. After including their family members, the total population of the voters would be 2,80,000. So with such a huge vote bank, we should get equal rights like people from other sections of the society," said Bharati Dey, sex worker and Project Director of Durbar Mahila Samanya Samiti, Sonagachi.
Reportedly, no party has included the demands of sex workers in its manifesto despite repeated pleas of the workers.
However, the candidates of various political parties from North Kolkata constituency, under which the red light district of Sonagachi falls, affirm their commitment to the cause of the sex workers.
Mohammad Salim, the candidate of Communist Party India (Marxist) said that his party has always stood by the sex workers and even these workers have faith in Left Front for working in their interests. Incidentally, he was elected to the Parliament from this constituency in the last elections.
"Union Minister of Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury wanted to bring forcefully some laws, which were against their interest. They have some need-based grievances and we have to address them and for that we have to develop our popular support. I am supporting," said Salim.
On his part, the Trinamool Congress candidate, Sudip Bandopadhyay admitted that he is fully aware of the issues and problems faced by the sex workers of Sonagachi whom he referred as his 'sisters'.
Further, he said that they should be encouraged to join the social mainstream instead of just being given a sort of recognition.
"I fully admit the demands made by them. They are asking for the recognition of their profession, but I want to make them release from the profession, which is an old profession coming throughout the world. So naturally this is not the exception. But this is the area, I am fully concerned about and I share my sentiment with my sisters," said Bandhopadhyay.
Political parties, particularly in West Bengal, have become sensitized to the demands of this section of society and candidates are making promises and commitments to ensure support from this large section of voters.
It is believed that India has over 30 lakh sex workers and they have the potential to become an intense pressure group. By Ajitha Menon.