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A ray of hope for Kolkata's sex workers

          Kolkata: More than 100 commercial sex workers in Kolkata gathered here recently to mark the 12th anniversary of the Durbar Mahila Sammanayee Samiti (DMSS), an NGO working for their welfare. The organisation has been the only ray of hope for these women, ostracised by the society.

          According to an estimate, there are at least 40,000 sex workers in Sonagachi, Kolkata's biggest red light area. Most of them lead pathetic lives. With the scare of AIDS looming large, most of them cannot even avail of the basic medical facilities. For 12 years, DMSS has not only given them a sense of belonging but also carried on a successful campaign to create awareness about Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) and HIV/AIDS.

           According to Dr Jana, organiser, DMSS, the organisation runs a non-formal education programme for these women and their children, besides vocational training programmes and a small savings scheme."The basic change that has been made since the inception of this programme is that the people's attitude towards sex workers is slowly changing and their acceptance in the mainstream is slowly being recognised and being accepted," said Dr Jana.

           Women sang and danced as rehabilitated sex workers and the younger lot interacted on their present and future concerns. Swapna Gayen, a sex worker, said, "We feel our predecessors involved with this organisation had greater concerns and emotions than us. So this is an opportunity for us to interact and give rise to a movement (for propagating sex workers' rights)," said Swapna Gayen. DMSS is also mobilising sex workers to launch a countrywide movement to fight for labour standards in the flesh trade. Though banned under law, flesh trade is rampant in Indian cities and thrives under the garb of dancing girls. At least 6,00000 minors are also employed in the profession and their number is said to be increasing by 8 to 10 per cent every year.


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