Sex workers across India are seeking to influence candidates in the elections through collective voting. Collective voting is an attempt to demand better health facilities and welfare services in exchange for votes. Conservative mind-sets and lack of proper policies from successive governments have seen sex workers being left behind.  They have therefore formed a network in an attempt to make the politicians realise that they too are citizens of this country and that their vote matters too. The network they have founded is known as the All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW). In a statement to The Guardian, Kusum (who goes by only single name), the president of All India Network of Sex Workers, stated, “We wanted to see which party accepts sex workers as part of the community. Some express support for us behind closed doors, but never in public.”

Feeding Their Families…

The network has a strength of around 5 million sex workers. If those dependent on them are taken into account, it grows to a sizeable 20 million people. The sheer number is sufficient to influence the way the vote swings. This is the reason why they have decided to vote en bloc. “That is why we are making a special effort in this election to get some visibility and get our voices heard. Our vote is important because we all come to a consensus and collectively decide which party to vote for,” said Kusum, who is based in New Delhi.

Taking Their Demands Directly To The Candidates

In Kolkata this time, sex workers are taking their demands directly to the candidates. They have approached around two third of the candidates in West Bengal, and urged them to sign the declaration of support for them. “About 50 candidates have signed a pledge to fulfill our demands. The day the results are out, we are going to be at their door, demanding they act,” said Dr Smarajit Jana, chief adviser for Durbar, a sex workers’ collective in Sonagachi, the biggest red light area in South Asia, and part of AINSW, told The Guardian.

Last Resort Is NOTA

You can never believe what politicians promise, for most of them end up doing nothing. Same is the case here. Fed up of politicians ignoring their demands and not fulfilling the promises they made during elections, AINSW had issued a seven point charter of demands in April 2019. They had demanded that their issues such as police harassment, extortion by goons, the absence of any government pension facility, which are plaguing the sex workers, to be looked into.“If we do not get assurance from your end, we will have no other option but to select NOTA while voting,” stated the release.

They have also demanded that their families shouldn’t face any discrimination in the society. There have been cases when their children are not given admissions in schools and this nearly cuts them off from the mainstream society. The demand also asks to legally recognise their work and consider it as a profession.

Read More:Legalizing Prostitution? Here’s What Grassroots Workers Think

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