Sex workers stand up against forced vargani collection

This Ganesh festival, a majority of the commercial sex workers at Budhwar Peth can heave a sigh of relief as the demand for vargani (monetary contribution) has gone down considerably. Apart from stricter policing in the area, sex workers have stood up for their rights and protested against forcible collections.

Not surprisingly, this year has been quiet. "Aapko jo bhi dena hain woh dil se dena ( give whatever you want willingly)" is what mandals have urged the sex workers, says Bebitai Kamble, president of the sex worker's community-based organisation (CBO), which recently celebrated its first anniversary. Sex workers organised a special programme on the occasion.

The CBO has more than 300 sex workers under it. A core committee of 10 members meets regularly at the Community Learning Centre (CLC) set up exclusively for sex workers a year ago. "Ever since the CLC was set up as part of a project by Pathfinder International's programme — Mukta — women have found a platform from where they can discuss their concerns and interests," says T K Jayarajan, deputy director (documentation), Pathfinder International.

According to Seema Waghmode, director of Kayakalp, there was a fresh lot of complaints every year. Brothel owners complained that some mandals demanded amounts ranging from Rs 3,000 to Rs 10,000.

Bebitai, along with 10 other CBO members, has been meeting officials at the police station and municipal corporation to help them with various grievances.

ACP Rajkumar Shinde said patrolling and door-to-door visits by senior officers like Rajesh Shirke and others from the Faraskhana police station have also boosted their confidence. "There were complaints during Janmashtami about vargani being demanded for dahi handi. Mandals have been warned against forcible vargani collections, failing which extortion cases would be slapped against them," Shinde added.

Dnyaneshwar Molak, joint municipal commissioner, said the manner in which the sex workers have been working together to better their lot has been impressive. PMC has also involved 250 such women in various training programmes, he added.

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