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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 September 2005, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
India sex workers demand rights
By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Sex workers (photo courtesy: DMSC)
Sex workers are planning a protest march to the Indian parliament
Sex workers from across India have pledged to intensify their campaign for legalisation of their profession.

They said the move, announced at a national convention in Calcutta, has become necessary following the closure of dance bars in Maharashtra.

Campaigners say that legal recognition is crucial for the future of the children of sex workers.

The National Network of Sex Workers says that it will organise a protest march to the Indian parliament.

Swapna Gayen, Secretary of Calcutta's Durbar Mahila Samanoy Samity (DMSC), says legal rights for sex workers have become more important than ever before.

It is a question of survival with dignity
Swapna Gayen, campaigner
"Look at how the government closed down the dancing bars and threw tens of thousands of woman out of work. If these were legalised, this would not have happened.

"So we demand legalisation of the sex trade in our city and in the whole of the country. It is a question of survival with dignity," she said.

She said legalisation of her trade was crucial for the children of the sex workers and their future.

Sex workers from Bangladesh, attending this convention as observers, also support the demand.

Safe sex

Two decades ago, Smarjit Jana, now chief adviser to the National Network of Sex Workers, organised Calcutta's prostitutes into the powerful union, the DMSC (literally Powerful Women Co-ordination Committee).

Demonstration by sex workers (photo courtesy: DMSC)
Sex workers from around India seek advice from the DMSC
The DMSC forces clients to use condoms and runs a co-operative for the women in the city's red light districts.

Now, sex workers from all over Asia visit Calcutta to learn from the DMSC about how to organise themselves to demand legal rights and protection, how to practise safe sex by making condom use mandatory and how to keep away all those who try to take away their hard earned incomes.

But some feminist groups say sex workers should proceed slowly - first they should get the rights of normal citizens and then they should intensify the fight for legalisation of the trade.

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