New Internationalist

Shantanu Mukherjee

March 2008

A portrait of a young sex worker in Kolkata by Indian photographer Shantanu Mukherjee

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Sumi is a sex worker in Kolkata (Calcutta), India. She works and sleeps in this little room, under the charge of her landlady, Fatima, and she has to pay for her own upkeep. As one of the younger women, she is also treated as little more than a slave by the older sex workers in their domestic concerns.

Cross-border and domestic trafficking in young girls and lower-class women is a long-standing problem in India. One-time capital city Kolkata plays an important role in this flourishing trade, as it forms one of the major transit points for traffickers from Mumbai and Pakistan. The women are often passed off as distressed migrants seeking refuge in a new locale; many of them are born and brought up in utter poverty and they are often deserted by their husbands or willingly betrayed by them into the sex trade. Upon entering the profession, the women are bereft of all options. They are themselves participants in the intense social stigma that taints their work, and are unflinching in their belief of their own ‘fallenness’. Deprived of education, and suffering from malnutrition and a lack of adequate healthcare, they are reduced to little more than bonded labour.

Shantanu Mukherjee
By arrangement with Majority World

This column was published in the March 2008 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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