Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee


Sonagachir ek Yug Shootings from the carnival for rights and pleasure

Last 15 years is the witness of sex workers’ challenge to mainstream discourse on health and development, on sex and sexuality. And now turning up side down the rules and norms of sex workers’ life and profession Durbar, the sex workers’ organisation now holds a carnival to celebrate their journey. 

The film captures this carnival. It shows how inadequate and inefficient the morality based discourse of sex and sexuality is! Here are some people who can defy the stigma, and claim rights of pleasure in public. It also shows at this time of HIV how ineffective our intervention programme could be if not based on rights based approach. In fact, more than that only a right based approach can help people come out of stigma and fight discrimination in the perspective of HIV/AIDS. It shows joy and freedom can equally be their rights – denying it is retaining darkness.


The End Begins Saga of a journey for a new self and sexuality

In 1992, an STI/HIV intervention programme targeting the sex workers of Sonagachi, Kolkata was started. A base line survey reveled though HIV infection is low but vulnerability is too high since consistent condom use among sex workers is only 1.1%. As the Sonagachi Project continued to evolve over the time it started challenging the usual service delivery mode of intervention programme as sex workers had to face too many barriers towards practicing safe sex. It was too evident that besides oppression and exploitation they suffer from low self esteem, in fact up to the extent of self-negating degradation. So having no positive identity they perceived their health problems as inescapable fate, instead of occupational hazards, which could be protected and prevented. With these understanding, the programme took a great turn for developing a new discourse of self and sexuality, beyond morality-immorality dichotomy. Later years proved based on this new discourse these women emerged as sex workers demanding rights and recognition. The film captures these women’s journey from prostitutes to sex workers, from consenting oppression to establishing rights, from service recipients to leading change, from being object of knowledge to subject of new initiations.


Savings, Credit and AIDS A bank to bank on for fighting AIDS

In its early days, DMSC realized if it could not overcome sex workers’ financial insecurity and retain stability, they would remain vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. 

She earns on a daily basis usually has no safe place to save or hide the money. There are so many people to cheat her under this or that pretext and in her distress no money and nobody to stand by her. At times, no awareness can help her negotiate safe sex. Financial security is one of the means to negotiate safe sex. But, how can sex workers develop financial security that would be reliable and flexible enough to support their uncertain income and needs? Usha is the unique answer to all these questions. But it was not easy to start, since Government has no law to allow sex workers to open and run cooperative. Besides legal obstacle, local goons and moneylenders are there to hinder the initiative. Usha is the first ever example of how to successfully overcome all such hurdles.

The film captures the felt need of the sex workers for their own bank, its formative years, present functioning and how it supports sex workers’ movement for rights and recognition. It uniquely shows the relation between financial independence and strength and HIV/AIDS vulnerability along with the DMSC’s success to overcome all these hurdles.


Listen to me The subtle voice and new look of an emerging self

Either born into brothel or they choose it out of limited options, in any case they were to endure stigma and all imaginable forms of exploitations. They were taken for granted to be there to silently obey orders of the sex trade controllers. Throughout the history, they were either pitted or romanticised in public discourse. They were taught to accept the roles and identity offered by their surrounding civil society. 

History gets up side down with the advent of Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee. For the first time in history, these women of the brothels emerge as human beings, as workers demanding rights and recognition. The film captures this journey from prostitution to sex work. It follows how a bio-medically oriented intervention programme turned into a community led structural intervention programme, which now own and headed by sex workers. The story captured in this film shows how a movement while changing social norm around safe sex, recast a new identity.

The film is a product of DMSC-TAAH Research Project, designed to identify and disseminate the values, principles and strategies of Durbar run intervention programme, one of the two WHO Models for HIV intervention programme all over the world.


Komol Gandhar Cultural programmes for freedom and rights.

Bengal sex workers’ organization Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee was born in 1995 to fight for the rights and recognition of the sex workers. It represented sex workers in various forums. Immediately after it came into being, it could successfully break the silence of civil society over the sex workers’ life. One thing it could not achieve – presentation of their life and struggle in cultural arena. What was in currency was either pity or romanticism for the sex workers. No cultural group ever realistically represents sex workers’ life and struggle. Moreover armed with the new positive identity as sex workers, they had now a great demand for their own cultural expression of their life and struggle. 

Thus, Komol Gandhar came into being, the cultural wing of sex workers’ movement. Immediately it created a huge stir among the members of DMSC. The most innovative thing was its dramas, which were neither pre-written, nor staged before. It was rather developed by using their very own and unique everyday experience and dialogue. Its productions own a number of prizes at national and international forums. Each cultural performance contributed to the sex workers’ sense of agency. It also helps developing a positive identity for the sex workers’ children by providing a space for participation in public arena. 
The film captures all the subtleties of cultural expression of Komol Gandhar, its contributions to sex workers’ movement.


Parliament March Sex workers’ movement against ITP(A)

National Government of India is now stepping up to stop trafficking of women and girls. And in the process they are conflating trafficking with sex work, which essentially is an attempt to deny sex workers’ livelihood. 

The basic assumption of the proposed law is that the destination of all trafficked women is sex work, though government has no such comprehensive supportive data set. In their everyday experience, sex workers know what the law enforcing authorities are! Empowering police more is to disempower the sex workers more. What the government is essentially trying is to stop the sex work. And that is why sex workers of the country under the leadership of DMSC marched to the Parliament to exhibit their protest before the whole country.

The film captures an on going movement, the stir it made, and the issues it raised. It is a film that shows how sex workers mobilize other marginalised people by the side of their movement. Following the sex workers’ movement led by DMSC, it exposes how ineffective the law is going to be for preventing trafficking of women, and the probable adverse effects it is going to produce on HIV intervention programme. It also covers the issues of sex and sexuality in the new perspective of sex workers’ demand for workers’ rights.


Bandhu Amar Durbars Initiative for Other Marginalized People

Hopeless dusk turns fade and the brighter sun tears apart the darkness; its time for a new awakening; its indomitable, it’s unstoppable. Come friend!!! Lets’ witness this splendid change. 

Durbar Mahila Samanwya Committee has taken a pledge along with sex workers’ movement, for the Shabar tribes, for the traditional dance performer Nachni, for the fisher folks of costal Bengal –and many others. For, it believes in an equal and equitable world, where all marginal communities live with peace and dignity. Till date, time has witnessed the phase, from searching for our own identity, uniting for rights and recognition, to lending a helping hand, to stand by their side- the ones’ who are still stacked up in the same old societal structure with criminalized identity, silently tolerating all imaginable exploitations, just because they were born into this social caste.

Venture into this new horizon has been a tough but a strong move towards development of these communities through the same processes which made possible, an affirmative transformation within the sex workers’ communities in Kolkata, 15 years ago; of building their capacity, mobilizing them and ensuring their fullest involvement in the movement to establish their own rights and ensure the basic minimum necessities while ensuring sustainability.


Tale of night fairies: The forbidden areas, the fallen women and their dreams.

When asked, as to what do they think of their profession, they say, they do hard work to… to win hearts, to give pleasure. In this sense they are laborers. They earn out of their art and skill; they don’t cheat, neither do they beg. 

Durbar has provided the sex workers’ of west Bengal, the platform to share their experiences, views and their suggestions world wide, and they continued to spread their grand endeavour to justify their demand for rights and recognition. Now, they cherish for a brighter and splendid tomorrow where their dream of a just world with equal rights for all will come true.

This film tells the story of those night fairies of the forbidden areas of Sonagachi, Kolkata, West Bengal. They share their life stories, their experiences and the just reason why they demanded workers’ rights and not rehabilitation. Their personality is exasperated with the attitude of the civil society; still every night they bloom with a different attraction and flavor. It essentially says that, the sex workers of Kolkata, after Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee came up, gathered the confidence and courage to challenge the society for they believe sex work is a work and they are as good as any other citizen of the country and deserve rights and dignity.


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