Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee

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The soft and the sharp notes of Durbar

Komol Gandhar is the name of Durbar's cultural wing. It was formally registered in 1997. 'Komol' means soft and gentle. If you split the word 'Gan-dhar' into two, you get 'Gan' which means song, and 'Dhar' which means sharpness. So Durbar can be soft and gentle as well as sharp and incisive, and the organization uses song and other performing arts as its medium to propagate its cause.

All Durbar cultural activities are used pragmatically as tools for HIV prevention work - raising awareness and challenging stigma, and also used as a strategic front to sharpen Durbar's movement in highlighting sex workers' rights, bringing sex workers' demands into the public arena, and challenging dominant stereotypic representations of sex work and sex workers.

Komol Gandhar gives sex workers and their children an opportunity to claim the rights to joy full life and a space to express through cultural performances. These medium has helped them to express their creativity, helps them to pacify some of the brutalized experiences of being sex workers or their children, at the same time by unleashing a huge opportunity to express their potential imaginary and creativity. It gives sex workers a 'voice' to negotiate with mainstream society.

Komol Gandhar and Durbar has succeeded in drawing a very wide range of volunteers and well known playwrights, singers and dancers to join the group's activities. High profile cultural artistes in Bengal has built the group's capacity, lent credibility, facilitated access to mainstream performance venues and helped generate further public interest and publicity. However, in the beginning the involvement of 'outsiders' has inevitably meant that the cultural styles and political representations of sex workers' lives have been influenced by outside perspectives rather than enabling sex workers' to develop their own representations. So Komol Gandhar started to develop its own scripts, plays and composed dances, based on sex workers' life stories where renowned technique expert play their role as facilitate but role as created of program which have been performed at various venues all over India and West Bengal. One of its proudest moments was when Durbar was requested to perform during the opening ceremony of the 1998 International AIDS Conference in Geneva. The group also performs in many Durbar meetings and rallies. Upon request, Komol Gandhar now also organizes specific activities for sex workers' children.

Performances reflect different themes - HIV prevention, social stigma, gender inequality, the social construction of sex work or trafficking - and they have stepped into mainstream cultural spaces through their excellent skill and unique approach. They have performed in prestigious venues such as Kolkata's Academy of Fine Arts as well as street corner and in village performances and have won various accolades, awards all across India. Their heightened popularity has helped sex workers to recognize and believe in their own capabilities. Most importantly it has contributed in community mobilization, dissemination of HIV messages to wider audiences, and to help greater understanding regarding structural and political causes of HIV vulnerability and structural barriers.

Komol Gandhar- Building Solidarity:

For a group of sex workers coming from diverse backgrounds Komol Gandhar has created an opportunity to explore their cultural heritage and to preserve and expand their cultural expressions. Komol Gandhar since its inception has been playing as a platform for exchange of various cultural traditions, across linguistic, ethnic and regional barriers and forging a common identity as sex workers. It is a powerful driver force behind the sex workers' movement. Komol Gandhar is not merely an instrument to communicate their messages effectively. By stepping out to perform in public spaces the sex workers see themselves as asserting their rights to equality with the privileged class of cultural world who otherwise has denied their access to this area since ages.

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