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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 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%.

Any form of development, whether monitoring and controlling the spread of HIV, or ensuring that sex workers’ children receive a formal education, must be preceded by widespread recognition of their social, emotional and material needs.

Known internationally as one of the largest sex worker co-operatives in India, the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee has been campaigning to gain such rights for over two decades.

Regulatory boards set up within Sonagachi itself claim that only 38 underage girls and 23 ‘unwilling women’ entered the sex trade in Kolkata in 2012.

Home to one of the largest red light districts in Asia, the area accommodates an innumerable cohort of at least 10,000 sex workers in a dizzying maze of shoebox rooms and street-side stalls.

I met Suvitha, a sex worker who has been living in Sonagachi for over twenty years, in a tiny room covered in flaky blue paint, attached to a courtyard complex. Nobody wants to help us when we get into trouble.” She sits cross-legged on the dusty floor, occasionally running her fingers through the numerous scars that run along her arms.

“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.

Protim Ray explains how the lack of laws targeting clients and pimps prevents the organisation from instating change through any other medium other than the sex workers themselves.

His latest initiative to treat HIV-positive workers focuses on the use of technology to reach more workers.

“Our research is on how to increase adherence to anti-retro-viral treatment for HIV positive individuals.

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