Ground Zero at Kolkata AIDS 2012 hub: Nothing will stop us!

On 23rd July 2012, about 30 miscreants tried to invade Sex Workers Freedom Festival venue at Swabhumi in Kolkata. They raised slogans against conference and organisers and tried to disrupt the proceedings. However, intervention from the conference participants and police prevented the miscreants from disrupting our peaceful gathering. Dr Samarajit Jana, Chair of the Conference strongly condemned the incident, "This goes against democratic spirit of the country. It reflects negative attitude and level of disrespect towards sex workers and their right to raise their voice."

Meanwhile, today’s sessions included presentations about self-regulatory boards, unionisation and legal environment. The discussion highlighted the importance of self-regulatory boards (SRB) to combat the trafficking of minor girls.  Mr. Goutam Ghosh, the noted filmmaker, stated emphatically that the “model of SRB set by many sex workers collectives from Bengal, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh to stop minor and coercive trafficking is the only way to deal with this ever-increasing problem.” 

Sex Workers are not criminals: Mayor Devashish Kumar

In his inaugural address, Madan Mitra, the Minister of Sports and Transport, extended full support to the Sex Workers Freedom Festival and made it clear that sex workers are entitled to their fundamental rights. He went on to add that the “more you deny issues related to sexuality, there are more chances of facing problems and difficulties.”    

Taking this forward, Devasish Kumar, Mayor, said that sex workers are not criminals and he has seen them being “unduly and unfairly harassed” and urged that such criminalization of sex work should stop.

In her keynote address on Health Policy and development paradigm for sex workers, Ms Sujatha Rao, former Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and Director General, National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), stressed that all mainstream development programmes should recognise the realities of sex work and that realise that every sex worker is coerced or trafficked.  Hence the thrust should not be to penalise the sex workers or their clients.

Mr. Goutam Ghosh, the noted filmmaker, stated emphatically that the “model of self regulatory board being set up by many sex workers collectives from Bengal, Karnataka  and Andhra Pradesh to stop minor and coercive trafficking is the only way to deal with this ever-increasing problem.”

The video link with the main International AIDS Conference being held at Washington got established with sex workers both sides focusing on the right of sex workers to be free from arbitrary arrest and police violence.

At Washington, Pye Jacobson, a former sex worker from Sweden spoke about the Swedish model, which makes buying sex illegal being pushed by US and Swedish governments onto other governments around the world. “The Swedish governments’ model is a failure. It has not reduced sex work it has just made us more vulnerable and has made us move into more risky and dangerous workplaces in order to get clients often far away from the prying eyes of the police,” she emphasized.

Agreeing with this, Ms. Marianne Jonker from the Netherlands spoke about the hostile legal environment that sex workers across Eastern Europe and Central Asia are facing.  “Ideally speaking we should seek the protection of the law like all other citizens but instead we are scared of seeking protection given the attitude of the police towards us,” she added. 

Similarly the sex worker delegates from Africa pointed out that many sex workers’ organizations which have adopted the anti-prostitution oath either limit or avoid working with sex workers entirely for fear of losing critical U.S. funding.

Meanwhile, representatives from sex workers organizations from six continents resolved that media regulatory bodies across the world should safeguard the rights of the community to ensue that media does not violate their rights and maintain the highest professional standards of sensitivity and inclusiveness. This Declaration seeking accountability and sensitivity from the media was signed by nearly 450 delegates, 360 from India and over 90 from sex workers representatives from countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Thailand.

Rituu B Nanda

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