18 Feb 2009

Collectivisation of Women in Sex Work

By – Aditya Bastola

The document intends to draw some of the theoretical discussion on collectivisation of women in sex work through a historical perspective that have lead the women to mobilise for a collective action while living in brothels. It also intends to highlight the pioneers of women’s movement which have motivated other women in sex work across India for collectivisation due to a popular believe for prevention of HIV/AIDS and meeting health and social needs associated with the malady. The process of collectivisation is mainly reflected on Sonagachi Project and Saheli HIV/AIDS Karyakarta Sangh in Kolkata and Pune respectively.

Community Organisation a way forward for Collectivisation

According to Nag (2005), Collectivisation of women in sex work across India has been on the grounds of HIV/AIDS project strategies which relied on Peer Education System.

ALTHOUGH project implemented for prevention of HIV/AIDS, the primary strategy has been to mobilise women in sex work for collective action, it is vital to understand how one relates to such a locality especially red light areas sited in almost all cities across India.

Prior we reflect to locations of sex workers living in red light areas, one requires augmenting the perception of communities and their process of mobilisation. It is often believed communities are described as certain social realities of human life such as; a) small geographical unit, local unit with many areas of common life, b) an association [formal/informal] of people with common like, but do not reside at the same neighbourhood, c) localised large unit but little common like throughout a process of interaction and mutual dependency.

Understanding the complexities where rural villages or unit may fit in the above mentioned categorisation, in the Indian context, classification possibly will not always suit, as such communities may at times consist of small groups which have a caste/religion base and very rarely homogenise except for tribal hamlets. It is this conceptualisation which supports to identify communities with locality and thus constrain the concept where we tend to omit communities which provide certain functions to the society.

In this conceptuality process, when we try to analyse the situation that persist in an urban setting, all neighbourhood is perceived as little communities as rightly discussed by Robert Redfield where the characteristics are distinctive small size, homogeneity of the in habitats and specific physical geographical and psychological boundaries but such discussion have certain limitations which tend to exclude the similar interest and mutual dependency and primarily broadening the horizon of boundaries. In fact at such level when geographical limits are not ascribed criteria, the exclusive population tends to congregate into the framework of functional community.

In the case of red light areas sited across Indian cities, there are women belonging from different caste, religion, culture, and region, who have been mostly forced to live in a brothel and perform sex work as their source of livelihood and significantly perceived as fate from various walks of life. Without ignoring the fact, they perform a certain role, fulfilling the sexual urges of men. As one cannot disregard, the society being driven by patriarchal norms, where men have an active role and decides what is wrong and good whereas the women are perceived as passive and follow the thinking of men. Such discriminative inhibition and foremost the stigma attached towards sex work often ignore the existence of sex workers as a community within a community.

As the first HIV/AIDS incidence was identified in 1986, Chennai, then there was a growing concern amongst the social think-tanks to address a preventive measure before the disease was widespread and affected the economy of the country. They targeted women in sex work as a mean which could prevent the spread of the disease and established a working model based on Peer Education, who could educate other women in sex work for prevention of HIV/AIDS infection. The initiative undertaken by the government recognised sex workers as a unit of community and first launched the community lead target intervention programme at Sonagachi, Kolkata also known by Sonagachi Project.

Awakening to the concern, various government and non-government organisation extended their work related to HIV/AIDS awareness generation amongst the women in sex work across India. In this process, the agents recognised the sex workers as a community. They diagnosed the problem on the broader framework of community based on geographical boundaries. As a result a need for community organisation was felt amongst these external agents. They trained women in sex work who could impart knowledge and information to other women regarding to HIV/AIDS at the brothel level. They were coined and strategized under the banner of Peer Education System. A ‘multiple approach’ was adopted, where experts designed a variety of services such as provision of medical services through referrals to government and non-government clinics and hospitals, treating sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other general health facilities.

In this process, it reflects a community discontent was created by the external agents who in turn mobilised its members for organisation and developing an association to address the issue at the larger level. The discontent was created through door-to-door visits by the Peers Educators at the brothel level, awareness generation about general health etc.

As rightly argued by Ross (1955), Community Organisation...as the process of bringing about and maintaining a progressively more effective adjustment between social welfare resources and social welfare needs within a geographical area of functional field. The organisation of women in sex work have brought about a realisation towards the community discontent which was focused on the health aspect and channelled into an organisation (Peer Education System) and shared widely in the community for its sustainability.

Amongst some external agents, their process of organising the women in sex work lead to collectivise the community members as a forum of women in sex work. This experience could be shared through the initiative of Sonagachi Project by the Government of India which lead to establishment of ‘Darbur Mahila Samanwaya Committee’ (DMSC popularly known as Darbur), Kolkatta and similarly Saheli HIV/AIDS Karyakarta Sangh by People’s Health Organisation (earlier known by Indian Health Organisation) in Pune, Maharashtra.


1. Kampala Kempadoo and Jo Doezema, Global Sex Workers: Right, Resistance and Redefinition, New York, 1998
2. Murray G.Ross & B.W.Lappin,1955, Community Organisation: Theory, Principles and Practice, Harper & Row Publishers, New York.
3. www.epw.org.in/epw/uploads/articles/1420.pdf (accessed on 10/03/2008)
4. www.genderhealth.org/pubs/SANGRAMdesc.pdf (accessed on 10/3/2008)
5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16615869 (accessed on 15/03/2008)
6. http://www.khpt.org/sahabhagini.htm (accessed on 15/03/2008)

17 Feb 2009

Feature film review

Review of GURU Feature Film
By – Aditya Bastola

This is a review of GURU feature film director by Mani Ratnam. The review highlights in three perspectives; the changing role of nation state, the gender relationships – pre and post marriage with the focus on the main characters of the film, and significantly the role of media in capitalist era. The primary focus of the review is to highlight key issues related to the said perspectives on the footing of Gender, Development and Globalisation.

The feature film takes off on the aspirant character of Guru (Abhishek Bhachan), who is ready to perform any role to fulfil his dreams. He is characterised as an intelligent lad, with full hopes of achieving success and optimistic in nature.

Given the perspectives which this report signifies is the changing role of the nation state, in the post independence era, the government of India adopted a welfare approach for its growth and progress. Over the period, priority was emphasised on industrialisation. Industrialisation was considered to be the key step towards growth and progress of the nation. It was then, the entrepreneurs were motivated and supported through various means to strengthen their efforts. The politicians and the bureaucrats joined hands with the aspirant proprietors to make India, a self-sufficient nation, so considering the vision of Gandhi. Reflecting on the GURU, it features the process, how Shakti Company (a company in the film) adopted to politically manoeuvre their leaders and the officials. For e.g., analysed from the movie, when imports took place, majority of the machines used in the polyester making were exempted from import duty, on the basis of being imported for repair work. Similarly Shakti Company had permission to operate 6 units for polyester making, but instead there were 12 units in total operating. All such functioning strategies of the company went unnoticed until highlighted by the media. Official on duty, were ignorant about cross examination. This highlights power manipulates power, and vis-à-vis the power which has been in existence was distributed amongst those future powerful idealised by the nation state. The film, clearly demarcates that, it was then the process which had had been initiated to make the rich - richer and the poor - poorer. The Capitalist nature of the state had already percolated and seeped deep into the veins of the policy makers and visionaries of India on the rhetoric of India being a welfare state.

Like-wise, the changing role of the nation state, the feature film also indicates with the growing concern to achieve one’s dreams and hopes followed on the foothold of developed nations, the gender pattern changes. In the film, the aspirant character married the women, in need of wealth and prosperity. He as a matter of humbleness accepts the brother-in-law so that he could assist him in all endeavours, legitimately making him the 50% partner in business, which did not sustain due to incapability of undertaking the risk factors in entrepreneurships. The woman featured performs a role of a wife, a mother and a significant character to support the aggressive capitalistic nature. This means, the wife was expected to perform the domestic roles and the care taker of the children, with being equal partner in the Shakti Company, where no decision-making capacity was entrust on her.

This clearly indicates, with growing nature of the society from socialism to capitalism, the burden on the women has been increasing. For e.g, when the women becomes an equal partner but has no voice in the decision making, the risk factor of the business increases her vulnerability towards abuse, her innocence becomes her own burying ground.

Thirdly, reflecting on the perspective of the role of media in the capitalistic era, featured in the film, it highlights the capability and the manipulation which can take place at a given time frame. Media in the capitalistic era supports the powerful so that re-distribution of power takes place. Footages from the feature film indicates, that media is the only key informant which could empower people through dissemination of information and take decision governing their life. Such as, when the discloser about Shakti Company’s lack of business ethics went on print; the public wanted their shared to be returned. If such information was not disseminated, all such activities would go unnoticed. Similarly, when the media wanted Shakti Company resume its activities, they could take all efforts to support the capitalist.

Thus, concluding, the growing concern for development points a hinge on every citizen that conceptual understanding need to be in place to recognize the gender roles and the changing pattern or phase which capitalism takes on every toehold of the poor, marginalised and the women.