Calcutta sex workers protest at ancient ritual

Sex workers in the Indian city of Calcutta are up in arms over an ancient ritual in which earth dug from near brothels is offered as a symbol of fertility to the Hindu goddess Durga.

Hindu priests are digging up the soil before the biggest annual festival in West Bengal state, the Durga Puja. The festival is dedicated to the demon-slaying goddess Durga and will be held later this week.

“We are against the ritual as it only helps in perpetuating [illegal] prostitution,” said Swapna Gayen, president of Durbar Mahila Samannay Committee.

The committee, an organisation of sex workers, is calling for the legalisation of their profession and the removal of the stigma attached to it.

“We are branded as prostitutes and ostracised by society. This practice only adds insult to sex workers’ injuries.
How long should we bear it?” she asked.

Sex workers are holding a door-to-door campaign to rally opposition to the ritual but priests said their criticism had no basis.

“We think the ritual is an honour to sex workers, without which the worship of the goddess remain incomplete. The tradition goes on from time immemorial,” said Ajoy Banerjee, a priest in Calcutta’s famous Kalighat Temple.

He said the ritual honouring fertility was important because the festival preceded the harvest in the state.

Calcutta’s 60 000 sex workers have been active in voicing their rights such as the use of condoms by clients. They have been at the forefront of a campaign seeking to legalise prostitution in India. - Sapa-AFP

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