Commercial Sex Workers in India – Resource Pack

When our group chose the topic of commercial sex workers in India, we knew that India was dealing with a substantial problem. However, I don’t think we understood how significant the problem is, and I don’t think we knew really how much was being done about it. Consequently, we chose resources that present the facts about sex work in India and that show what people are doing to reduce sex work and its negative effects.

Studying commercial sex work is important and relevant to our class because it exemplifies the idea that the personal is political. All of the sex workers in India have a story of why they chose or were forced to enter the sex work industry. Most of these stories relate back to another problem in India. For example, one of the prostitutes interviewed in one of our sources said that she became a sex worker to support her family after her husband left her. She said she was uneducated about the field and was not aware of the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. She feels exploited as a sex worker. This example raises the question of why she felt that after her husband left her, her only option was to become a prostitute. Perhaps it reveals India’s lack of sex equality in the workplace. If women were given equal opportunities in the workplace, they might not become sex workers in such high numbers (there are 60,000 sex workers in one district in Mumbai).

Sex work in India is also relevant to our class because it relates to our theme of the regulation of sex, sexuality, and identity. For all of the women who are sex workers, their sexuality and identity is being controlled by the men who continually use their services. They are also controlled by the government, which has not outlawed sex work (prostitution is legal in India, but prostitutes are not allowed to solicit customers in public). Also, sex work raises the issue of stigma versus shame. Sex workers are stigmatized; their shame cannot go away. Even after sex workers are too old to be working, they are still marked as prostitutes.

Finally, when thinking about commercial sex work in India, it is important to realize the horrors of the situation, but it is more important to go one step further and recognize what people are doing to help the women who are facing oppression, HIV and other diseases, and abuse. Our resources highlight what specific individuals, groups, and the sex workers themselves are doing to improve conditions for commercial sex workers in India. Instead of simply feeling sorry for these women, we can support the steps that are being taken to alleviate this problem.

(Each heading is a link.)

FRONTLINE/WORLD India: The Sex Workers

This is part one of a video series by PBS, that provides a valuable inside look at the lives of Indian sex workers in Mumbai.  It touches on the women (and young girls’) experiences and the challenges they face: from condom use to HIV treatment, from sex worker unions to security issues. Although the documentary was made five years ago in 2004, it provides useful details and perspectives.

Demography and sex work characteristics of female sex workers in India

This article summarizes some of the demographics of female sex workers in Andhra Pradesh. It also explains the HIV problem in India that is largely linked to sex work.  Many times the lack of knowledge about HIV and the limited access of condoms are main reasons to the cause of HIV.  The method of this research consisted of documenting the demographics and sex work characteristics of female sex workers.  By using this method, the BMC Public Health Team would be able to analyze how to decrease the spread of HIV by trying to prevent the transmission as the first step.  According to the conclusion, researchers found that, “More comprehensive prevention efforts are needed that include changing the social and legal context of sex work, which would create an environment for sustained reduction of HIV risk in female sex workers.”

This link is to an online news source about all things India.  The specific article from this week gives statistical information and a numerical estimate to help grasp the severity of the issue of Sex workers in India. It also brings up the role of the Ministery for Women and Child Development sector of Indian government in the issue.

Border Thinking on Migration, Trafficking and Commercial Sex

This blog is written by Laura Augstín, who writes from experience on topics centered around sex, travel, and work. This specific post entitled “Changing prices for sex work in Sonagachi, a Kolkata red-light district” provides a powerful account of the effects of the economic downturn on the sex worker’s industry. It includes personal accounts of Indian women, as well as readers’ reactions to the topic.

Bill Gates visits prostitutes in India

This video clip is from a newscast by New Tang Dynasty Television about billionaire Bill Gates visiting a red-light district in Pune, India known for its high population of sex workers. It talks about the connection between commercial sex workers and the spread of HIV, and also gives a different perspective of a well-known figure in U.S. pop culture.

New magazine features sex workers’ stories about life in Indian brothels

This newspaper article discusses a new magazine Red Light Dispatch that is written by and for sex workers in India. The magazine is similar to a CR Group in that it features women’s personal stories. To the authors and readers, it is “journalism of purpose.”

Protests for sex workers’ rights

This article is an example of one of the many outside groups who are trying to combat sex work in India. Groups like the one highlighted in the article are working with sex workers to prevent HIV. They are staging protests and lobbying the government.

Sex workers learn karate to defend themselves

This video shows a step sex workers are taking to protect themselves from abusive clients. They are learning karate so if they ever feel like they are treated badly they can defend themselves.

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