Indian prostitutes receive life insurance

Last updated: 3:25 PM BST 01/05/2008

Around 250 sex workers in India’s eastern city of Kolkata have, for the first time received life insurance cover from a State-owned corporation.

They believe this to be a step forward in their long standing crusade aimed at legalising their profession to help bring them into the mainstream and fight poverty and discrimination.

“The policy from the Life Insurance Corporation of India may not change much in our life, but this small step is a giant leap forward in our struggle for legal recognition of sex work,” Bharati Dey of the Indomitable Women’s Coordination Committee in Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, said.

The committee that campaigns for safe sex and to make prostitution legal has 65,000 sex workers as members in eastern Bengal province of which Kolkata is the capital.

“We live in no-man’s land and this is the first time that a government company has recognised us as professionals”, declared 45-year old Dey from the city’s Sonagachi red light district, one of Asia’s largest.

Although illegal, prostitution is a thriving business across India with an estimated two million female sex workers, the majority forced into it by poverty.

Mamata Nandy, 35, a sex worker and a proud policy holder, said recognition by a company like the Life Insurance Corporation would also strengthen the fight against AIDS which in India is transmitted primarily through prostitutes.

According to UNAIDS, India has some 5.7 million people infected with the AIDS virus HIV, the highest such number compared with any place else.

The insurance policies, which are now expected to include to sex workers outside Kolkata, are not the only advance for women in the world’s oldest profession.

In the western port city of Mumbai, a bank run by sex workers was established some years ago to help free them from exploitative brothel owners who maltreated them and kept them in wretched conditions.

Started by a handful of sex workers in Kamathipura, Mumbai’s red light district, it now has hundreds of clients.

Story from Telegraph News:

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