Dignity and beyond
On the receiving end of ribaldry and moral outrage, prostitutes have long lived in a twilight world of shame. Rarely have they been accorded respect, much less acceptance, by a society that, even while benefiting from their services, demands their banishment to the fringes. And yet sex workers (as those in the profession increasingly prefer to term themselves) are essentially workers, selling a service in return for payment. Why, then, are they not accorded the dignity and rights that other workers get? Why do they have to continue to bear a burden of stigma, shame and criminality?
In the recent past, there has been a shift in the debate about sex work. After the advent of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the increased focus on sex workers as vectors of disease conformed to dearly held stereotypes. Yet this also provided an opportunity for sex workers to organise themselves, and the resultant empowerment has enabled them to make their voices increasingly heard. There is now a strengthening recognition that the criminalisation of prostitution, besides being an assault on the rights of sex workers (whether women, men or transgender) creates more problems than it solves, be it in terms of public health or human rights. As indicated by our cover image for this issue, by Bangalore artist Nilofer Suleman, looking into the lives of sex workers might also uncover stories of courage, resistance, humour, liberation and survival.
Our cover stories
What Kamathipura means today by Svati P Shah – Do those who want to rescue sex workers from brothels ask what their targets think?
The feminist and the sex worker: Lessons from the Indian experience by Srilatha Batliwala – Despite decades of tension between feminists and sex workers, it is finally becoming clear that the former has much to learn from the latter.
Sex and the pity by Meena Saraswathi Seshu – The stigmatisation of sex workers stems from misconceptions and squeamishness about sex.
Legislating morality by Rakesh Shukla – References to ‘prostitution’ in the legislation of Southasian countries exposes told-world mentality about this ‘immoral’ arena.
Like any other woman by Jayasree A K – Interview with Nalini Jameela.
Four lives by Kaveri Rajaraman – The Karnataka Sex Workers’ Union is fostering a sense of community among members as they struggle for personal, social, legal security.
Strings attached by Oishik Sircar & Debolina Dutta – Paranoia & moralistic attitudes towards sex work & HIV/AIDS have hurt both the interests of sex workers & efforts to tackle HIV.
My candle burns at both ends by Raza Rumi – Southasian fiction has provided many insights into the persona and conflicts of the exploited-empowered dancing girl.
COMMENTARY: Decriminalise the sex sector.