by National Network of Sex Workers
March, VJT Hall, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India
Workers’ Forum Kerala
is an exploration we invite you to take through the
multi-dimensions of sexuality and our society. We are
answering it with our experience of life and as we perceive
it. You may disagree, fight and oppose it but this exploration
will never be boring. Whatever you encounter on the way,
please record and send us a copy. Let us together explore the
hidden labyrinth of our society and then build a more
egalitarian one. Bon Voyage…
How can you term sex as ‘work’? Is that a profession?
Yes, it is a profession. In the ancient times, it was
known as ‘vesyavriti’ in Sanskrit; ‘vriti’
means work. Any work is profession. We know it is work,
because we do it.
It was known before as prostitution. Why now it is called
As time passed by and values changed, the word
‘prostitute’ became derogatory. It is now used to
stigmatize a person. In order to remove that stigma, the word
‘prostitution’ has been replaced with ‘sex work’. Sex
workers themselves coined the term sex work.
Is not sex an expression of love?
Sex, of course, is an expression of love. Cooking,
teaching, singing, writing a poem etc., are also expressions
of love as much as they are self-expressions.
In that case, is it right to sell sex?
We are part of a society where all services have been
commercialized. Knowledge, talent, health services, etc., are
bought and sold. Even Meditation and Yoga are taught for
payment. Then, what is so special about sex?
So, sex can be sold?
Definitely, yes, it can be sold. Sex work is paid service.
What ever you would say, sex work is a shameful job.
No, you are mistaken. The working conditions are shameful.
Not the work. Usually, an activity when declared illegal, will
be carried out in secret and in disgusting situations, and
then it will appear very shameful.
Is it so? But then nothing seems as shameful as sex work.
There are many. Take the case of alcohol. Arrack is banned
in Kerala. If you consume it, it is illegal and you can be
booked. But, if you consume alcohol in a bar, it is legal and
has social status even. Consuming alcohol in train is a
punishable activity in India but in the flight, it is served
as a delicacy.
So you are saying it is the situation that makes the act
Of course. Besides that, the human tendency is to do what
is forbidden or prohibited. Again, organized criminal groups
emerge around the forbidden. Violence and injustice become
part and parcel of it. All this is applicable now in the case
of sexwork, that is why it seems a criminal activity and
How can we redeem this situation?
In the case of sex work, it has to be decriminalized.
Do you mean that sex work has to be legalized?
No, there is a subtle difference between decriminalization
and legalization. When it is decriminalized, that work can be
carried out by anyone (for example, agricultural activities,
where licenses are not necessary). But, legalization will
bring authorities along with it.
There is a problem. Usually, legalization means the state
stepping in, which will bring on its heel the licensing
authority, then, the doctor who give fitness certificate and
the police who execute law and they all have to be bribed.
This will pave way for the emergence of a new section of
unauthorized sex workers also. But then, decriminalization
means appropriate changes in law also or it will remain a
So you want a free for all situations?
No, it was only an attempt to highlight the possibility of
corruption that could emerge as a result of license raj.
On the other hand, better control and order can be ensured
through Sex Workers’ organization itself.
What does that mean?
The organization will be able to check whether the new
entrant is an adult, whether s/he is entering the field on
her/his own will, whether the person maintains physical and
mental good health, etc. This way, the existing inhuman
conditions in the profession can be eliminated. But to do
this, we need a decriminalized situation.
Whatever it is, isn't it an act that causes and spreads
There are many jobs with risky working conditions. A
driver, a doctor, a nurse or a mine worker, all have to be
extremely alert and careful in their work to be safe and
assure safety for others. A doctor or nurse can become carrier
of contagious diseases and infect lot of persons, remember
Typhoid Mary. All that a sex worker has to do is to learn and
practice ‘safe sex.’
‘Safe sex’, what is that?
It means to adopt and practice non-penetrative sex or, if
it is penetrative sex, to use condoms.
Is that sufficient to prevent AIDS?
Of course. This is the only possible way to prevent almost
all the sexually transmitted infections. At the same time, it
is unfortunate that sex workers alone are alert in practicing
What do you mean?
The sex workers are the only persons who learn and
practice safe sex now. So coitus with sex workers is safe. But
during casual sex, nobody bothers to adopt safety measures.
What evidence do you have to support that statement?
Look at the number of AIDS patients in Kerala. Most of
them (98%) are men and housewives. So you could see the modus
operandi of the spread of this disease.
It is said that there are many AIDS patients among the sex
workers of Mumbai. What about that?
It is true. When AIDS reached India, there was none
practicing safe sex. Another important point to be considered
is that the sex workers of Mumbai did not go anywhere to bring
the illness. It is those men, who constantly travel,
transmitted the disease to the sex workers and to their own
Are you accusing your own clients?
We are only stating the fact and not intended as an
accusation. Men take initiative in sex act. So, those who
shaped a male dominated society have more responsibility to
practice safe sex.
Why can't the women take initiative?
Only sex workers, not wives, can demand the use of condoms
during sex. In a society, where sexuality is suppressed and a
culture of silence reigns, women who take initiative for using
condoms will be put to shame.
Is that the reason for stigmatizing the sex workers?
No doubt. In only sex work, women who have the right over
their body to decide on how, where and with whom to have sex.
In fact, free and safe sex happens only in sex work.
If that is the case, how did AIDS spread fast among the sex
workers of Mumbai?
Good question. You should know that in the present
situation, sex work and its premises are criminalized. Hence
the brothels are all unauthorized. And, those in it, like the
wives, are not free. The bonded sex workers’ fate is to
become wives to many.
Are you not countering your own statement that sex workers
are more free than wives?
True, there is a contradiction. All sex workers are not
free. There are two sections among them. One section sells
themselves, while the other is sold. The former is
comparatively more free and safe. The latter is in slave
trade. Nobody could do anything because everything is
When the sex workers are sold by others, shouldn't that be
Of course. It is a priority of our organization. No one
should sell another. It has to be treated illegal.
Is not closing all the brothels a better option?
No, that wouldn't do. Brothels are not only just prisons;
they are work places as well. To close the work place is like
closing down a factory. Would you close down a factory when
the workers ask for the improvement of the working conditions,
such as safety and health measures, raising the salary and
reducing the workload and improving the facilities?
What a comparison! You mean brothels should be continued?
They need not be continued in the present form. At the
same time, it is a safe shelter for the sex workers. Its
absence will affect them.
It is ridiculous! Social workers are working hard to close
down the brothels and you argue for them?
It is true. They consider brothels as exploitative
structures only and try to close them. Then the sex workers
are rehabilitated, by sending them back home or put in
a remand home, so that the social workers could sleep
peacefully. Rehabilitation usually ends up with solitary
confinement with hard labor with minimum payment for the rest
of a sex worker’s life. If we talk to somebody, they will
accuse us of starting the old business. Rest of our life, we
will be forced to live a ‘moral’ life according to our
Are you ridiculing? Why such a contempt towards
It is not contempt. Isn't it those who are unemployed need
to be rehabilitated? We are employed. Ours is a profession. It
is true that we are being exploited. Instead of ending that
exploitation why should we be treated as unemployed persons?
Have they ever thought what our plight will be at home or
remand home? In rehabilitation who will provide companionship
in our life? We never see these social workers again. They
treat us with disdain; we need love and affection, which is a
forgotten chapter in their bible. We need sex, who will
provide it? Will they?
This profession has no dignity. Why do you want to continue
In our opinion, this is a decent profession. How many
people are there on queue for our service! Those who seek our
services return with contentment. That is why they come in
search of us again and again.
Scum of the society is coming in search of you. Isn't it
Is it? Head-load workers to engineers and politicians to
priests are our clients. Are they all bad people? In that
case, we are ready to become bad with them.
Anyway, this profession is not apt for a decent person.
Here, the question concerned is who is decent, and what
decency is. How can sex become indecent when it is carried out
with mutual consent? Committing sex as a right, without the
consent of the partner, is considered decent? Wonderful!
Whom are you hinting at?
Why doubt! It is the husband-wife relationship. Most
husbands rape their wives. Can there be a worse relationship
than this? What else is more shameful than to share one’s
life with a person who rapes you?
You are exaggerating too much. It is not fair.
Is it so? Is it decent to become the slave of a man whom
you bought with dowry? Can it be denied that husband-wife
relationship does not exist on the foundation of money? Which
relationship is there without money transaction? Why court
orders maintenance payment in divorce cases? Why wives plead
for maintenance by ex-husbands? What service did they do for
Even then isn't it preferable than to share life with many?
Here the question is about freedom. What is the use of
having a miserable life with one person? No wife has the right
over her body. She is her husband’s property forever.
What about you? You accept money from anyone and are
obliged to do whatever he or she demands.
That is only a myth. We decide on how to relate, with whom
and where to have sex. We control the situation. Only sexual
relationships which we like take place.
I don't believe you. Do those who are in brothels also
enjoy this freedom?
Certainly not. Since sex work is criminalized, such an
atmosphere remains in the brothels. We have to add that, all
brothels are not of the same type. There are brothels run by
the sex workers themselves. Exploitations, to the scale in
Mumbai, do not exist there. Bengal has a different atmosphere
than that of Mumbai.
Are you then justifying sex work and the need for brothels
in the society?
In our opinion, sex work is a necessity. Those who are
denied sex and those who want to enjoy variety/methods of sex
should have an opportunity to fulfill their desire. What we
need is recreation homes and not brothels.
Recreation homes? What are they?
Brothel is the degenerated form of a rich cultural legacy.
It is a product of what was denied. It is not necessary to
sustain them. It can be compared to bootleg instead of pure
You were saying about recreation homes...
Yes, there should be recreation homes as expression of
sophistication in culture. Every man and woman should be able
to come and enjoy the spring of life over there. Recreation
homes are necessary in the context of money-based and
reproduction-based family relationship.
I don't understand.
Every home has a kitchen, then why do hotels exist? As the
hotels offer different varieties of food, provide space to
rest and hold parties with friends and cater to your stomach
when you are away from your home, likewise the recreation home
also have its own functions.
You mean brothels, like hotels, are necessary?
Not brothels, but recreation homes. Certainly they are
necessary. When the job requirements of a section of the
society demand mobility; for e.g. sales representatives,
delegates of conferences, truck drivers etc, there should be
ways to meet their needs. In the absence of such a system, the
inhuman acts like rapes happen.
You were referring about those who are denied of sex, who
The blind, the handicapped, the ugly, the aged and those
who desire variety are those who are denied of sex. The men
who doubt about their capacity for erection and cowards also
come under this group. Does anyone bother about their need for
sex? They form a big chunk of our clients.
Does it mean that only those who have some kind of
handicaps approach you?
Not that way. Since the society does not care about these
people’s need, we were only trying to bring them to your
attention. Again, those who undergo stress and having strained
relationships also seek us out.
I don't understand what you say. I used to consider the
brothels as places for the satisfaction of those with sexual
That’s where you went wrong. If they were the only
clients, the existing laws would have been sufficient to
control them. If people come in search of us, in spite of the
present suppression, there should be some deeper reasons.
Can you elaborate on that?
When we are children, our sexual instincts are controlled
in every step by family, neighbors, society, teachers, priests
and institutions like school and religion. Thereafter, further
control is imposed on by the police and the court. Monogamy is
projected as the ‘right’ model. Our clients are coming to
us after and irrespective of all these taboos and barriers.
Then you should understand the reality behind this need. As
the saying goes, “there is more to it than the eyes can
This is surprising. I thought that it leads to sexual
anarchy only. Do your clients love you?
Certainly, yes. Many of them propose to marry us. We know
the meaninglessness of a married life. Hence we know that we
would turn to be mutual oppressors in such a system. After
experiencing the warmth in the relation, the clients want to
marry us, hoping to perpetuate it. They don't understand that
it will not remain or continue in a prison like atmosphere.
Let me ask you frankly, will you send your daughter to this
In the present situation, never. Who would send another
person to go through the trauma, shame and imprisonment? But
this does not mean that the profession itself is indecent.
This question is quite similar to asking whether one would
seek job in Iraq while the Americans are bombing there. If no
war, one would surely go.
Your answers are peculiar ones. So, you are afraid to send
your daughter to this profession?
It is nothing to do with fear, but of choice. Again the
present condition is not conducive for working that is all
what I meant. We have to further analyze this question. I
should not decide upon what my daughter should become. But, if
she selects this profession, I will explain the risks,
problems, advantages, freedom and conveniences of it. The
ultimate choice will be her.
But doctors and engineers do push their children to take up
the same profession.
That only means they are making a mistake and oppressing
their children. If my daughter takes up this profession, I
will instruct her how to manage the society. We are also
working for a more free society for her generation. Instead of
creating oppressive husband-wife relationships, we aim at
creating mutually loving friends-relationships.
Does that mean we don't need families?
No; not that way. Families will be there, as a historical
truth, as there are many types of families. But in the present
family system and relationship, there is no democracy. The
‘husband’ is the one who rules. The ‘wife’ is the
ruled and the children are slaves. This pattern has to give
way to love and respect in the relationship between man and
If loving and respecting relationship exist in families,
what is the role of sex workers?
It’s a good question. Here, it is not an authoritarian
relationship based on sexuality. Now women are considered only
as a receptacle to receive and sustain the sperm. The morality
is exclusively attached to the paternity. ‘Virginity’ has
to be ensured only by the women.
My question was regarding the role of sex worker…
Yes, yes, in the new system the role of a sex worker is
similar to that of any other service provider, such as a
doctor, a policeperson or a musician. Sex Work will not be a
question of morality. People can seek it out without any blame
Are you then advocating that there is no need for morality?
Not at all. Presently morality is a value that affirms the
power of men. Hence, whether it is wife or sex worker she is a
commercial product for the men. We are speaking of a new
Can you explain it?
Just like food and shelter, sexuality is a taste that
humans have developed. It is not merely a reproductive
activity. Nor is it a process to ensure the paternity of the
children. On the other hand, it is a vast world of tastes,
which has not yet been completely explored, developed or
enjoyed. When it is understood in that way, the present
suppressive morality will have no place in our society.
I did not follow!
In other words, sex work will be an area of service like
bringing up and educating the children for the qualitative
development of a family. In such case, there will not be any
need to suppress sexuality.
Can you elaborate further?
Like we nurture any skill and develop it with proper
control measures, sexuality also can be developed. It is like
learning to drive safely. Just because there will be
accidents, we do not leave our car at home and walk. We learn
to drive safely with expertness.
I suppose, you are trying to say something different.
Yes. It is a complex issue. It has to be approached
through different points of view. Then only even provisional
clarity can be achieved. Maybe another angle can help us.
Isn't it better to love and to live with one person alone?
It is not a question of good or bad. We have people with
different interests and tastes in our society. The issue is
how to live together with mutual respect in the context of
Do you mean that there is no right and wrong?
Right and wrong are relative concepts. When a mutually
agreed contract is violated, rights and wrongs emerge as a
rule in it and it is valid to that particular context. There
is neither eternal truth nor eternal right.
Will you explain this further?
All our traditions and customs we practice today were the
rights and wrongs formulated according to the needs of the
society at a given point of time. Just like the laws, that are
redundant need to be amended or updated, the rights and wrongs
also have to be brought to the present and contextualized.
But, it does not happen that way. Even the difference in
context and the power structure determine the ‘right and
wrong.’ For e.g., it is wrong to kill a person inside the
country, but right and honorable to kill an enemy soldier.
We just accept and absorb traditions with sensitivity. In
this process, we don't reason them out. Great people like
Buddha, Christ and Narayana Guru were able to revalue them
radically. This has taken us forward from the culture of
‘eye for an eye’ and ‘tooth for a tooth’ to the
culture of loving one’s neighbor as one self.
I couldn't understand your ideology.
Yes, it is convenient not to understand. If you
understand, you will have to change your life’s perspective.
It is easier to ignore or forget it. So I don't blame you, as
it is the usual case for people to pretend.
Just a minute, how did you mobilize the finance for this
The money which was entrusted to Durbar Mahila Samanwaya
Committee (DMSC) of Kolkata, by various charitable
institutions was distributed to the National Network of Sex
Workers (NNSW). We are part of the network, so we use that
money for this conference.
That means you are rolling in foreign funds?
Sex worker’s services are not region-bound. We are
international citizens. We are against boundaries and wars. We
stand for love and service. So, we have no contempt for
foreign money the way it is reflected in your question.
Don't try to slip away. Tell me the truth.
The distinguished service of DMSC in the area of HIV/AIDS
brings worldwide help to them. They are ‘workers of the
world.’ So, there is no question of national and foreign.
Besides, we realize that such discrimination can only result
in unending hatred and war.
Big talk! You are only trying to justify your foreign fund
We accept financial support from any institution, local,
national or international. Just as we entertain all our
clients without the discrimination of poor or rich. We accept
the helps too. Your patriotism can bring only death to
millions and result in immense destruction.
Are you stating that patriotism is bad?
In the present form, it is bad. In the light of the
philosophy of loving your neighbor and in front of the
ideology of international workforce, yes of course, it is bad.
Present patriotism is too bad compared to the approach,
service and love, we, the sex workers offer. We respect and
recognize the patriotism that is proud of one’s nation while
loving one’s neighbor too. We don't subscribe to that
patriotism, which propagates hatred and war.
Are you supporting the suppression and oppression the
imperialist forces perpetuate on the third world countries?
No. We are trying to unite the First, Second and Third
World countries to sow the seeds of a democratic culture in
them. Imperialism can never buy us. We stand against war and
How can you boast after accepting their funds?
We don't consider it as their money. We use the money for
our freedom and the development of the society. We can never
be influenced for any other involvement.
Is this possible?
Any country in the world borrows from the existing
financial institutions. But other than meeting their needs, do
they agree to destroy their country according to the demands
of such financial institutions?
Government of Kerala does that by accepting loan from Asian
Development Bank (ADB).
That is a subject which requires further discussion.
Anyway, our funds have no such conditionality attached.
Therefore, even according to your criterion, our situation is
better than that of the Government of Kerala.
It is bad to receive foreign funds.
Is “foreign” bad? In that case, the things that you
use, from pen to the plane are all foreign. What about that?
It is only a political position. It is also an emotional issue
related to tradition. It was a strategy developed by Gandhi
for the freedom fight at that time. Now, when we hear
‘foreign’, the social psyche is disturbed.
When we accept funds, we are accepting slavery.
Not exactly. It is the conditionality along with the fund
we receive, that is what is important. That is why ADB is
different from other institutions. We cannot equate the funds
from the people of a country with the State instituted funds.
Foreign forces are trying to mislead and control us through
their financial support.
We have to distinguish between the American Government and
the people of America. We should be clear on what is politics.
It is political myopia to equate the help of a charitable
institution in America with the strings-attached help from
Whatever you say, I do not consider getting funds from
foreign countries as good.
Today foreign fund is used as a political weapon to attack
each other. The Asian Social Forum at Hyderabad was organized
with foreign fund. The organizers belonged to various Left
parties, including Communist Party of India (M). Were they all
enslaved by Imperialism?
Is there any doubt?
Yes, we do doubt. In the changing world situation the old
equations are not correct. Therefore, we should evaluate the
foreign help and fund on the basis of the conditionality
attached to them. It is not an emotional question. It is the
conditionality of ADB loan which differentiates it from other
financial institutions. When ADB finance, they interfere with
the governing system of that country.
Are we not deviating? I think this system of selling women
should be stopped.
Again you are mistaken. It is not a women’s issue. It is
a profession carried out by men, women, transgender and
What?! Men? Intersex? What are you saying?
Yes, this is a profession where maybe majority (60%) of
the workers is women. The remaining consists of men and
transgender or 'hijaras’. So, don't see it as a system which
exploits only women.
My God! Are men working as sex workers for women?
There are people like that. They are called ‘gigolos’.
But they are a minority in our country. 99% of the male sex
workers are for men.
What about others?
Transgender and intersex sex workers render service also
for men. Therefore, to approach this issue as a women’s
exploitation area will not help to understand this profession.
Even if it is in Sex Work, isn't it man-woman relationship
that we should encourage?
It is due to your narrow perspective that you are asking
such a question. The sexual dimension is wide and diverse.
There are men who love men (gays), women who love women
(lesbians), people in love with both men and women
(bisexuals), there are trapped identities in opposite sex’s
body (transgender) and neither man nor woman or both (intersex)
You are not joking, is it true?
True as our own existence. Besides the above mentioned
groups, if you take into consideration, the men and women with
varied sexual tastes and different methods they adopt, you
would see how intricate and colorful the sexual dimension is.
I can't believe it!
There is one more thing you have to take into
consideration. Historically, to ensure the paternity of men,
women were forced to remain chaste. This has hampered the
development of women’s sexuality to take root and bloom.
Along with it sexuality was confined to the needs of the
powerful and it remained in the narrow realm of succession
rights. If condoms were invented before kingdoms were formed,
the whole idea of morality would have been a different story.
Not many have to wait for their masters to come or commit
suicide out of shame. So it has remained a suppressed area.
Nothing become nonexistent just because it was suppressed,
rather it adopts more complicated and varied forms for
survival. Just as ‘life’ which learns to develop different
forms and techniques for survival in unfavorable conditions.
I don't understand anything?
What we are trying to communicate is that sexuality has a
history, which is not linear. Like human language it has a
diverse history. A language becomes more intricate, complex
and subtle as time pass by and also by the depth and vastness
of the subjects it handles. Similarly, sexuality is a basic
need, which was made into an intricate and complicated one
through the production relationships and power structures that
existed in history.
Can you explain a little more?
The diversity in the case of cooking food is another
example at hand. Taste differences among different cultures
are immense but again if you come to the same culture, the
differences are countless. From pudding to pork roast, French
fries to salad and so on. The richness of sexual tastes is
something akin to this. As sexuality’s history is of
suppression, it made people to pretend otherwise, discretion
is the password and whatever done is done covertly.
Everything other than man-woman relationship was considered
a crime by me!
Hold on! You are not alone. Almost all the governments and
societies of the past or present see it that way and call it
coyly ‘against the order of nature’. Meaning, coitus for
procreation is ‘right’ and the rest as wrong, hence
illegal. But if we take this reasoning as our criterion,
immediately we will find that given the number of children
being two or three, a couple has to make love maximum four or
five times in their lifetime. What they do in the rest of
their life is criminal.
The way you explain, presents a picture of sexual anarchy
This doesn't limit to sexuality alone. Take the case of
democracy itself. This fear you express, even when we explore
theoretically, prevented people who went to wield power, to
share it with people at large. However oppressive the present
system be, it is still a ‘familiar’ one for us. So, even
when we try to change or create a new system, it still remains
unknown and unfamiliar, hence terrifying. So, even after the
representatives of the people came to power, the real
devolution of power has not happened. Mainly because of the
inherent apprehension mentioned here and along with the
privileges of power enjoyed by the selected few.
You are digressing too much.
No, not digressing, We were only fetching an example to
make you understand. Like monarchy, the sexual practice
familiar to patriarchal society is followed as the only
'right’ with diligence by us. Actually, what we call anarchy
is the real democratic system, but there is no model or
precedence for it to follow. We have to create and formulate
the details of it as time and process goes by. With the new
democratic value and its criterion we could determine the
limits of the freedom exercised and can draw a new code of
Will you, please, explain a little more?
Coitus with mutual consent, whether between man and man,
man and women, women and women, transgender and others,
intersex and others and between more than one couple etc.
should be accepted. And also the varieties of sexual
intercourse and tastes should be accepted. The criterion of
‘right’ exercised here is of ‘mutual consent’. In
public perception, coitus outside marriage contract still
remains a ‘criminal’ act. No one really knows who is the
criminal and to whom against the crime has been committed. Sex
workers remain criminals without anyone complaining!
Then, should we see exploitation of children as ‘mutual
Certainly not, it has to be stopped. We encourage only the
adults to enter this field, that too as a free decision taken
by them. But here we have to be careful in drawing
conclusions. Sexuality and sex work should be understood in
two different ways. Like child labor we have to understand it
deeply and subtly. Everybody is against child labor now. But,
to the poor, the labor done by a child is also a means of
sheer existence. And also what we call traditional work, like
handicrafts, all start at home at a young age.
What do you mean, shouldn't children go to school?
Yes, they should. But we should understand that today’s
education is also another form of labor. The culture of seeing
carpet or coir making, fishing and cattle rearing and the
likes only as child labor and the rest as education, is not a
sane or welcome one.
I didn't get your point?
The above all are learning also. We practice to be a good
musician, gymnast or dancer from our childhood. A Nadia
Comaneci and Sachin Tendulkar all entered their fields of
expertise in their childhood. But we never see these as child
labor or exploitation. If you delve deep using the same
criterion we use today, we could see that all these can also
be termed as child labor.
What you are hinting at?
To be specific, the above criterion is not a good one.
What is deplorable and fearsome is our effort to make everyone
uniform and same. Education is not part of freedom or
liberation but is only a tool for someone, especially the rich
and powerful, to use others. But we call that education. To
sum up, the things we consider, abuse and trying to eliminate
as child labor is not to be understood the way we do now.
What is the relevance of telling all this here?
We should understand sexuality like child labor. Nobody
considers or even remembers the sexual rights of children.
Sexuality, out of blue, does not appear at the age of
eighteen. It is an ongoing process from childhood in every
living being. We are not handling this in a healthy manner,
instead we are trying to suppress it and instill fear of sin
Why should we encourage or consider sexuality in children?
Sexuality is also knowledge. Like language, we should grow
learning it. At the age of eighteen, suddenly we are not
talking and eating but everything is practiced on the road to
adulthood. So, in the sphere of sexuality, the condition of
absolute ignorance and suppression is terrible. The sexually
oppressive atmosphere we see around is our own creation.
But does this mean children should enter sex industry?
No. What we are trying to convey is that because of the
fear of children entering sex work, we suppress all sexual
feelings in children. Everybody is sensitive about children
and even the topic of sexuality can never be opened
surrounding children, so we are using this instance for the
need of sexual education for children rather than the heavy
silence around it. As we said earlier, like all other
profession, only adults, with their conscious decision, should
enter the sex profession.
Is it possible for you to prevent the entry of children
into sex work?
Our organization is able to check the entry of not only
children, but also the entry of trapped or unwilling women.
Here lies the importance of our organization. If a new person
enters the field, we are able to keep a watch over him/her.
What do you mean?
If we are united we could do it easily. Since this
profession is criminalized, no one is able to do anything. In
the case of labor unions, when a new head-load worker enters
the field, the union is able to identify him, help him out in
fixing his rate of the wage and also exercise some control
over him. This kind of self-regulatory system is possible only
in a crime-free atmosphere. By forming self-regulatory
committees of sexworkers we could find solutions to the ills
now plaguing the sex industry. This is the deepening democracy
in the field of sexwork. We always forget that those who are
involved directly in a field are the right persons to find
solutions and are responsible also. Instead we always go with
home made solutions and oppress the needy.
Let me ask you a different question, why do feminists
It is yet another misunderstanding. They don't oppose us.
Some of them are a bit confused. Whenever a woman tries to do
any social or political service, she is stigmatized as
‘prostitute’ by men. Then the women are forced to hide
their own sexuality and to prove that they do not have any
I do not understand.
When women enter in the social field and involve in public
activities, the male chauvinistic society opposes it. In order
to control such woman, the men and other domesticated women,
use morality and sexuality as their weapons. This forces the
women activists to show over prudence regarding sex.
Are you saying that feminists are showing over prudence
Not just showing, they are trapped into it. It is a very
delicate and subtle issue. It is like the communists in India
who opposed Gandhi turned out to be better Gandhians. The
model politician for the public remained a Gandhian and the
communists had no choice but live a life of oppressive
Your arguments are peculiar.
Not peculiar, but complex ones. We are just trying to show
how the social situation in which you live can form and mold
us irrespective of our belief system or ideology. Feminists
are our friends and stand with us in our fights.
I do not think that they will agree to that.
Those who do not agree today will join us tomorrow. We
will ensure the freedom and liberation of all sex workers and
all women. The freedom of the most oppressed is the freedom of
all. Due to this same reason, the freedom of men also is our
Freedom of men? What do you mean?
Though the men shaped it, the present society is a prison
to men also. Ask the men whether they are free. They are not.
We know that very well. The tears of our clients prove to us
how terrible our society is.
Do you equate sexual anarchy as freedom?
Certainly not. It simply means egalitarian male-female
relationship, female-female relationship, male-male
relationship and sexual minority relationship. Just ask any
man whether he has got a good female friend. A man longs for
such a friendship.
I do not understand what you are saying.
An unequal society creates people without freedom.
Today’s human beings are like flowers half bloomed and then
fade away. They do not become flowers with fragrance. By
creating a free society can only we have complete human
Okay, okay but what is the role of sex workers in it?
Sex workers exist in the area of sexuality and sexuality
is suppressed. Therefore, any act to attain sexworker’s
freedom would speed up the liberation process of the whole
society. That is why our liberation is the liberation of the
Isn't there more to feminist’s disagreements with you
than what you have described?
Yes. They oppose commercialization of women in a
patriarchal society. In their view sexwork is only an
extension of this commercialization. Logically, it is true.
But commercialization is not exclusive to sex alone. As we
mentioned in the begin everything from spirituality to
politics and food to space are sold in our society.
Are you then supporting commercialization?
No, commercialization is the present condition of our
society. The liberation from it is neither easy nor an issue
of women alone. This was the focal point of socialism, which
failed world over. No nation could so far overcome the power
of the market. Perhaps, it is possible that humans can have
freedom only within the limits of the market.
So, you justify selling women to the tourists as in
Your question brings us back to square one. This is not
only an issue of selling women. But then Thailand is not our
model. It is the condition of the broiler chicken. The shift
from the brothels of Mumbai to the brothels of Thailand is
only a shift from the dark cage to a clean one. This never
was/is our choice. Again there is a perception that all women
sitting in the glass houses are all trapped. But there are
instances of people lending it. Probably it is only culture
shock we experience, which leads to exaggerated experiences.
We have to sift through to get to reality.
Aren't your activities a prelude for sex tourism?
This question has another side. We, the sex workers,
existed before the concept of tourism developed. The majority
of the clients of sex workers are from the same nation.
Studies have shown that the clients of the sex workers of
Thailand, the so called sex-tourism center, are from Thailand
Does it mean that there is no relationship between sex work
Just like any other service or product’s relationship,
sex work also has a relation to tourism. Our traditional art
forms such as Kathakali, Theyyam and other handicrafts depend
on foreign markets and tourism for their existence now. Tender
coconuts are served to the tourists. But then, does it mean
Kathakali and tender coconuts are created and made for
Your arguments are tit for tat. Are you trying to defeat
We are not trying to defeat you. This is a social
intervention, so your defeat is also our defeat. Either we win
together or fail together. This discussion was meant to make
us united to break the chains that bind all of us. These
answers are relative in nature, not absolute ones.
Okay, okay. By discussing we wandered all over. One more
question does Government support you in your activities?
We expect the Government to help us. What we address is
not only our problem, but of everyone in the society. We are
just taking the initiative. Again, we are not here to fight
the Government. But one thing for sure, we will be constantly
reminding that we are here, and unless and until this issue is
resolved the society cannot move forward.
This is not an end to this dialogue. If you have any more
questions, do write to us in the address below. We will try to
answer you personally and also will try to bring out another
leaflet answering you in the next conference. You can also
record your criticisms. This dialogue we began now should not
end here. It has to continue. Perhaps that could show the door
to freedom of our society. We have to accelerate the
democratization process by delving deep into the
contradictions our society hold.
Sex Workers’ Forum Kerala
PTP Nagar, Thiruvananthapuram
Tel: ++91 471 2368142
e Date: 4/24/2003