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Although there have so far been no cases of the disease spreading to India, health supervisors in Sonagachi are wary of the high number of West African customers that frequent the area, and the potential risks that this may entail. Smarajit Jana began a series of sessions for community members on the symptoms of Ebola.His advice for workers to refuse sex to all West African clients, however, may fall on deaf ears in an industry where rape, coercion and exploitation are rife.The organisation claims to have increased condom usage from 2.7% in 1992 to 91% in 2010, and to have stabilised HIV prevalence to 5.2%.The statistics may be closer to a desired eventuality than the present reality.“Any criminalisation of sex work reinforces harmful stigmas and creates a black market where child prostitution and trafficking thrive.You have local goons and corrupt police extorting money, beating us and forcing us into unprotected sex.” The DMSC runs its campaigns from the Sonagachi district itself, with initiatives that spread across West Bengal, including a STD/ HIV Intervention Programme that began in the 1990’s.The only way to improve the lot of sex workers is to first bring about a change in the social attitudes that confine them.
Despite this, there are an estimated three million prostitutes in India according to the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
Here, bodies never seem to venture far from the shadows, and faces remain half-hidden from unwanted eyes.
It is little wonder that Sonagachi in Kolkata has an oppressive air hanging over it.
“Usually when people find out what I do, they want nothing to do with me or my daughter.” In Bengali, the verb to enter sex work, ‘nama’, is also used to describe falling or descending.
The social stigma attached to prostitution is so great that sex workers have been prevented from accessing public sector services, and have children who are denied entry to school.