Sex workers denied permission to host Durga Puja festival

The ruling will disable sex workers from joining the mainstream. FILE PHOTO  

: Although Bengal’s biggest festival Durga Puja is round the corner, recent orders denying permission to sex workers to organise their own Durga Puja, barring the existing one, have left sex workers across the State disappointed.

Taking inspiration from the success of sex workers in Sonagachi red light area in the city’s north to organise Durga Puja last year, sex workers in other parts of the city and the State decided to do the same this year. Smarajit Jana , founder of Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Samiti, said he was approached by sex workers who wanted to host Durga Puja in south Kolkata’s Kalighat, Boubazar in north Kolkata, Seoraphuli in Hooghly district, Durgapur in Burdwan district and Bishnupur in Bankura district.

“Barring Bishnupur, the police have denied permission in other places and asked us to obtain the permission of either the Calcutta High Court or Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. For the puja at Sonagachi, too, officials from the police headquarters at Lalbazar informed us seven days ago that we were not allowed to set up a pandal as it would obstruct traffic. We were forced to shift the puja to our NGO office but by then the pandal was being made and payments were cleared,” Dr. Jana said.

The denial of permission came at the last moment for almost all the puja committees.

“Other than the Kalighat police station, which had informed us in advance, all the other police stations informed us a few days ago that permission had been denied. By then, preparations were in full swing and money had already been collected,” Mr. Jana said.

Pointing out to the police’s discriminatory attitude, Dr. Jana said such behaviour is a set back for sex workers and disables them from joining the mainstream, at a time when efforts are being made to remove the stigma of their occupation.

“There is an unwritten rule which does not permit sex workers to participate in the festivities at Durga Puja pandals. The women, thus, wanted to have their own Durga Puja where they would be in charge of everything,” Dr. Jana said.

While representatives of the NGO had met State Minister of Women and Child Welfare Shashi Panja regarding the issue, she said she supported their cause and assured that she would inaugurate the Durga Puja at Sonagachi. While efforts were made to meet Ms. Banerjee, it has been difficult to get an appointment as she has been keeping busy, Dr. Jana said.

However, in an effort to help those affected in flood-ravaged Kashmir, sex workers will be contributing money to their relief fund from the sum they had collected to host the festivities.

“One half of the total sum will be divided for the Sonagachi and Bishnupur Pujas and the rest will be contributed for the Kashmir flood relief fund,” Dr. Jana said.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2021 6:08:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/sex-workers-denied-permissionto-host-durga-puja-festival/article6411593.ece

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