Strings attached

Beneath the euphoria surrounding the preparations for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi is a palpable fear – not about whether work will finish in time, but about sex workers from all over the world being 'trafficked' into Delhi ahead of the October event. Vijay Thakur, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, recently stated, 'Prostitutes from different foreign nations masquerading as tourists would book short tours to India. As it is difficult to restrict their entry at our end, we have recently asked the Tourism Ministry to keep a check on them.' Similar fears gripped South Africa during the recent football World Cup, with an estimated 40,000 sex workers having reportedly been 'trafficked' in to work the event. As Thakur's statement highlights, there is a significant gap between the reality of 'trafficking' and foreign prostitutes booking 'short tours to India'. Yet this false conflation is not actually originating in New Delhi, but rather in Washington, DC.

Marlise Richter, a researcher on sex work at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, described the South Africa estimate as 'completely ridiculous'. In fact, the ambiguity of these fantastical numbers is a convenient tool to fuel a moral panic that will attract international evangelical funding for anti-trafficking work, often piggybacking on HIV/AIDS in India. Huge mobilisations are afoot, with UN agencies such as United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) planning to launch a campaign in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism during the Commonwealth Games, roping in cricketers and Bollywood stars as ambassadors who will wax eloquent on the ills of trafficking.

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Himal Southasian