Promises of change: Sonagachi voters hoping against hope

April 24th, 2011 - 11:41 am ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, April 24 (IANS) One may or may not root for a regime change in West Bengal in this election season, depending on his political affiliation. But the promises of change are not causing much of a flutter in the lanes and by-lanes of Sonagachi, said to be the largest sex workers’ colony in eastern India.

“Change is for the outside world. For us nothing changes, polls come and go,” Chapala Das, 45, who has been in the world’s oldest profession for the last two decades, tells an IANS correspondent.

“With the elections come candidates making tall promises. They assure us that our condition will change.

“But then these are only promises and are not meant for being fulfilled. Along with the polls the candidates too disappear only to come back later,” she adds with a sigh.

Chapala Das is not alone.

Thousands of sex workers in the dingy nooks and crannies of Sonagachi located in the northern part of Kolkata have the same grievances against the representatives they elect every term with the hope that one day they too will get recognised as just “workers” and not “sex workers”, free from the social stigma attached to their trade.

Jamuna, another Sonagachi worker, argued: “Why can’t our work be considered as any other work? Why does society consider our profession a heinous one? We too serve the people. We help maintain balance and stability in society.”

“We have been fighting for long for legalisation of our trade, to have a secure social existence. We have been running from pillar to post to achieve this, but to no avail. The politicians promise every time that they will do something, but nothing happens,” Jamuna rued.

On elections, she said: “A lot of us had decided that this time we won’t vote. But a few of the candidates visited us while campaigning and assured that they will do something. So I will vote this time just in case something happens for our good.”

Padma Majumdar, 25, who calls herself a flying sex worker, is a graduate and had studied law for a brief period.

“While in school I did take up this job occasionally to earn some extra money. By the time I was in college and before I could realise it, I got sucked into this. It was too late for me to get back,” she said grimly.

“People started talking bad about me in the college. That’s when I had to quit. But I have no regrets. In my free time I teach the children here. My heart skips the beat every time the children call me ‘didimoni’ (elder sister).

Padma has no hopes when it comes to politics and elections.

“I may be only 25, but I have seen enough to know about these politicians. Why should I waste my time standing in the queue to cast my vote for nothing? I know society will never accept us. All the fight for recognition is futile,” Padma told IANS.

The Durbar Mahila Samanway Committee (DMSC), a forum of sex workers and their children, has on its board legislators and councillors who have been instrumental in implementing some key projects like the sex workers cooperative, AIDS awareness programmes, creation of self-regulatory board for preventing trafficking of women and eradicating exploitation in the sex trade.

But a top DMSC functionary chose to remain silent when asked whether she too had grievances against the government.

Parbati Halder, a sex worker’s daughter, born and brought up in Sonagachi, has gone on to become the Programme Director (Health).

She said: “I am not concerned about who comes to power. The only thing I want is aid from the government on a larger scale so that our programmes can be implemented effectively.”

A large percentage of the over 5,000 sex workers in Sonagachi are eligible to vote. During every election they pin their hopes that their elected representatives would do something to help them find a place in society they deserve.

This time too they would stand in long queues under the smouldering sun to cast their votes, hoping that their efforts would bear fruit, that they too will called “workers” without “sex” as a prefix.

Kolkata will vote in the third phase of the state assembly elections April 27.

(Anurag Dey can be contacted at deyvil@gmail.com)

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