While a large number of businesses in the nation touched a new low following the central government’s decision to demonetise high value Indian currency, the business at Sonagachi south Asia’s largest red light area has been unaffected by the move.
The last time Sonagachi was deserted was in December 1992 when the then Left Front government had to impose curfew in the wake of Babri Mosque demolition.
“I don’t remember such dull days. We had seen a similar situation after the Babri Masjid was demolished. However, then locals hopped in for a swinging time,” said Lata, a 60 year old sex worker turned house owner in Sonagachi.
“We are asking sex workers to ask their clients to use online fund transfer or transfer money using their cell phones. This especially for grade A sex workers who charge Rs 3,000 upwards for around 30 minutes of intimacy,” said Kajal Bose, secretary Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), the largest community based organisation working in the area.
According to DMSC, there are around 11,000 sex workers in Sonagachi out of which 4,000 are grade A. However, local sources estimate the number of sex workers in the area to be around 20,000. Grade B sex workers who charge around Rs 500 per client are the worst sufferers.
“There has been no impact on the business at Sonagachi,” Bharati Dey, the chief Mentor of Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, an organisation that works towards the betterment of sex workers, told on Friday.
One reason for the business not taking a hit is the fact that the sex workers at Sonagachi are still accepting Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes from their clients.
“They would be accepting those notes till the end of this month,” said Dey.
Unlike other businesses, the sex trade generally deals with cash payments and, therefore, had a possibility of getting adversely affected after the bigger currency notes were demonetised.
Those involved in Durbar say that a collective initiative by the sex workers organisation and an assurance from the local bank helped them sail through the troubled time.
“The Usha Cooperative Bank has assured us that they will accept the banned notes from us till the end of this month. The sex workers in the area would be able to deposit their cash in denominations of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 till November 30”, Dey said.
Though, Dey accepted that some of the sex workers might face a problem as all of them do not have a bank account.
“Almost 30,000 sex workers have bank accounts with Usha bank. Those with no accounts might be a little worried but we would find a way out for them,” she said.
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