Come this year’s Durga Puja and Asia’s largest red light area — Sonagachi in West Bengal —  will witness a monumental initiative. In a first, the Sonagachi’s sex workers will get a chance to don the chef’s hat. They will be cooking for various food pavilions run by the state during the annual cultural extravaganza. Once the festival ends, the workers will join the state fisheries department and draw a salary.

With a conviction to make a difference to the lives of the most vulnerable in the society, Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), an NGO that works for the uplifting the sex workers in the West Bengal, is collaborating these two sectors.

The NGO has managed to get a nod from the State Fisheries Development Corporation (SFDC) and according to the plan, the women will gather to train on the project by the fisheries department.

Mentor of DMSC Bharati Dey told The Indian Express that each sex worker will get a minimum Rs 400 per day for the days they will be working at the pavilion.

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Soumyajit Das, the managing director of SFDC  told PTI, “We will be training the manpower both in cooking and in fish processing – right from handling a live fish to packaging a finished product. They will cook for our food pavilions during Pujas.”

“During Pujas we run about eight food pavilions in various parts of Kolkata and two in Bangalore. Most of our cooks have been sent to Bangalore. As we need cooks we approached Durbar and they agreed.”

Samarjit Jana, another official of Durbar spoke to PTI about the training which starts from today. “The fisheries department had asked us for few women who could help in their kitchens and their fish processing units. We sought the opinion of the sex workers and many of them and their children expressed their desire to work as cooks,” he said.

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“As we need people in our processing units where we regularly have to cater to huge orders from various food chains, online grocery shops and supermarkets, their (sex workers’) employment will not be limited to the pujas,” Das claimed.

However, the question now is, will this move end the distress from the women’s lives? Those with children certainly want to move forward in life and get rid of the stigma associated with sex trade. Will they succeed?

Reportedly, a total of 30 sex workers are going for the training in the first batch. DMSC already has a list of more than 1,30,000 registered sex workers. This raises another question. Though the NGO and SFDC are aiding to solve the problem, but will this initiative be enough to give the women a new lease of life?

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