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TOI manifesto for minority voices: The never-heard voices from the country’s red-light districts

GB road ImageAMBIKA PANDIT IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

NEW DELHI: More than 4,500 sex workers live in the dingy lanes off Swami Shradhanand Marg in the national capital’s Chandni Chowk constituency. It’s one dark corner that politicians generally skip. But as campaigning reaches fever pitch for polling here on April 10 some party workers have come by distributing voter slips.

Move out of the capital and similar stories of neglect, violence, deprivation and denial abound among sex workers. Angry voices cry out from Mumbai’s Kamatipura, Sonagachhi in Kolkata and grimy redlight districts of other cities where the aware struggle to rise above their wretched conditions and make their presence known as human beings – just like others in the mainstream.

Fed up over neglect, these elections, probably for the

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first time ever, rights groups led by sex workers are exploring the option of pressing the NOTA button across the country. Why won’t they? Sex workers don’t figure on any political party’s manifesto.

There’s no official data on their exact numbers. In fact, the only available data comes from a 2004 study by Gram Niyojan Kendra for the Union women and child development ministry. It puts their numbers nationally at over 28 lakh .

TOI met some of them to give a voice to their demands. At Delhi’s GB Road about 2,000 sex workers are enrolled as voters. At NGO Shakti Vahini’s office, sex workers had converged to discuss their demands. Asked about the polls, many raised their hands to say they had voter cards. “Just before the polls, parties carry out padyatras, sometimes party workers drop by with voter slips. That’s all. After elections, no one enters our locality,” a sex worker Maya (name changed) says.

She’s lived in G B Road for 25 years and belongs to a poor Kolhapur family. She has a grown-up son who knows nothing about her work. She worries for her future as her son doesn’t want her to move in with him when he marries. Alone and ageing, Maya says she and many like her will end up on the streets. “We must be given a pension,” she says. Others join in to say they know nothing about government schemes and they can’t venture out for fear of the brothel owners.

An initiative by the Wada Toro Abhiyan to draw up a charter of sex workers’ demands as part of the process of developing a “Peoples Manifesto” saw women from the Kolkata red light districts of Kalighat, Sonagachhi and Bowbazar demand rehabilitation for those who want to join the mainstream.

Many want to leave the sex trade and lead dignified lives. “A rehabilitation plan should be declared,” the charter says.

NEW DELHI: More than 4,500 sex workers live in the dingy lanes off Swami Shradhanand Marg in the national capital’s Chandni Chowk constituency. It’s one dark corner that politicians generally skip. But as campaigning reaches fever pitch for polling here on April 10 some party workers have come by distributing voter slips.

Move out of the capital and similar stories of neglect, violence, deprivation and denial abound among sex workers. Angry voic ..

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