Nepali sex workers in Sonagachi reel under quake trauma

Sonagachi houses more than 7,000 sex workers from across south Asia, many of whom are from Nepal and trafficked via north Bengal.  

For nearly 10 days Pushpa Chettri (name changed), a 45-year-old sex worker from Nepal’s Sindhupalchowk District, remained glued to the television screen watching the developments in Nepal. She did not receive any information about her family, her parents and brothers, residing in Sindhupalchowk for over a week and had hardly slept or ate anything.

“Finally, on Saturday, I got a call from my brother. He said that though our house was destroyed but everyone in the family is safe,” Ms. Chettri told  The Hindu, sitting in her tiny quarter in north Kolkata’s red light district, Sonagachi, housing more than 7000 sex workers.

The annual business of Sonagachi is perhaps many times more than any mid-sized industrial sector in Bengal. Hundreds of sex workers – child, women and transgender persons – reach Sonagachi from the poorest districts of south Asia. For many of them, like Ms. Chettri, who have stayed in Sonagachi for over two decades, mobile phones are the only links between their families in the pristine Himalayan villages and decrepit quarters of what is believed to be Asia’s largest red light district, Sonagachi.

“Mobile phones are not working and I don’t know if they are alive without a roof over their head,” she said.

Shanti Rai (name changed), another sex worker from Nuwakot district of Nepal, said that over 20 people in her village have died. “No one is concerned about the remote villages. Other than the devastation there is cold, disease and threat of household items being stolen,” she said. Both Shanti and Pushpa occasionally visit Nepal once in six months to meet their families.

“While we stay here our heart is in our village in Nepal. But I don’t know if this is the time to return and if I will be able to locate friends and family,” Ms. Rai said.

“Some of them (sex workers from Nepal) were under severe shock, they stopped eating when they could not connect with the dear ones. But we constantly told them not to lose hope and to relax a bit…over last few days they got slightly relaxed, may be a little better,” another sex worker, who is from central Bengal, told  The Hindu. 

Dr. Smarajit Jana, the chief advisor of Durbar, the largest collective of sex workers in Sonagachi, said a similar situation had occurred when cyclone Aila had hit the State’s coastal region in 2009.

“While many sex workers from Sonagachi went to visit their homes in the State’s South 24 Parganas district during Aila, this time the women from Nepal could not move out of Kolkata as they are not sure of (family’s) whereabouts,” said Dr. Jana.

However, most of them may not return to their homeland in the Himalayan valley during the next vacation any time soon. “We are not sure if the families and the homes still exist or not,” said Ms. Chettri.

Her friends from West Bengal and Bangladesh agree that this time it is their turn “to comfort the sister from Nepal” the way Pushpa Chettri did during Aila in 2009.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 1:08:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/nepali-sex-workers-in-sonagachi-reel-under-quake-trauma/article7176172.ece

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