news Friday, May 29, 2015 - 05:30
  At 58, Seethamma still works to support her family. But her story, in all probability, will evoke revulsion, not admiration, because she is a sex worker. She was just 18 years old when her husband forced her into sex work. She educated her children and now grandchildren with her earnings from a trade that the world looks down upon. speaking about about torture at the hands of the police, she said: “I have had chilli powder put into my vagina, lathis inserted into it and even beaten up black and blue.”  She is one of five women who spoke about their lives as street-based sex workers at a public hearing organised by Sadhana Mahila Sangha, Swathi Mahila Sangha and Jyothi Mahila Sangha, in Bengaluru on Thursday. Towards the end of her speech, she said: “Who is responsible for my situation? My husband or the society of which I am a part of?” The issues raised by the five women on Thursday are a mirror to just how much trouble sex workers face from society. Women like Seethamma are pushed into sex work and violence by their families who are supposed to protect them. Others like Sujata were cheated by people and found their way there. Zoya found herself in sex trade after she decided to leave her abusive husband and look after her son on her own. “I was working in a silk factory but the supervisors knew that I was a single mother and would ask for sexual favours. When I refused them they would threaten to book robbery cases on me. So I agreed to have sex with them to earn my livelihood,” she said. Despite working hard, she could not escape sex work. Once in the trade, many of them found support in the groups that had organized the event. Today, they are campaigning for a dignified life, free from abuse, torture and sexually transmitted diseases, and even respect from society. There are many things – both social and political – that they have to debate. “If the dhanda is legalised, will I have to register myself as a sex worker? Will my child have to live with the same stigma? Will the police stop harassing us?  Or instead would they have more opportunity and information to harass and torture me?” Sujata asks. A close look at the lives of these women shows just how their lives have been shaped by factors beyond their control – child marriage, early pregnancies, rapes and sexually transmitted diseases.  Chetana was 16 years old when she was married. She had two children in two years. “I was raped by a gang of rowdies and I got infected with HIV after that,” she added, demanding that government schemes be implemented properly. They also wanted government assistance in educating their children. In a world that constantly threatens to upend theirs, these women have tried and often succeeded in reclaiming control. Eeramma, a junior artiste in the film industry says,“I was sexually harassed as a junior artist and earned a pittance. As a sex worker I am on my own without anyone bossing me.”

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