KOLKATA: Shefali Roy, a sex worker from Kolkata‘s red light area, Sonagachi, will not cast her vote for any candidate this Lok Sabha elections. Instead, she will press the NOTA (none of the above) button. But Shefali isn’t the only one in her community who would prefer the NOTA button to a political candidate; in fact, there are many who share her sentiments. Disillusioned and embittered with political parties, nearly 65,000 sex workers and their family members across Bengal have decided not to vote for any candidate this year.
Bharati Dey, secretary, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, that represents sex workers in the state, said, “None of the political parties have ever looked into our demands. So, it is our conscious decision to opt for the NOTA option.
The sex workers claim that political parties have ignored their three specific demands for years together. They alleged that certain sections of the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act like 3, 4, 18, 20 are being misused by some people, making their lives difficult. So, they should be scrapped. The other major demand is that sex workers want to register their profession under the labour department in Bengal.
And third, they want the government to give a formal approval to the self regulatory board created by Durbar, which will prevent the entry of underage girls and unwilling women into the profession. Dey said that political parties of all hues promise the moon during elections. “But ultimately, we don’t get any help from them when we need them,” she says. While sex workers relentlessly fight for their rights, Suman Maitra, a film director, has made a full-length feature film on the life of sex workers and children addicted to narcotics in the Sonagachi area.
Titled ‘The Best Seller’, the film will be first screened at the Goa fest and then at other international film festivals. “It’s a dark film. It’s a realistic fiction. It traces the journey of two sisters – Anu and Ayesha — brought up in a brothel. In a bigger canvas, the film deals with the psychology of sex workers,” explained Maitra. Maitra, who had worked as an assistant to film director Vishal Bharadwaj, has made the film in Hindi so that a pan-India audience can enjoy it.
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