Builders, construction workers, rickshaw pullers, even taxi drivers in Calcutta are mostly from out of town.
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Armed youths make direct contact with women living in the area difficult.
The alternative to get access is an organization like Durbar.
Outside, the alleys team with rats and shady young toughs.
Women lean into shadowy doorways, tucking in their saris, scanning the passers-by.
Champa Das lives in a tiny, 2 by 7 meter corridor-like room. Suparna Tat has been a field worker and program coordinator for The Durbar Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) for a year. In the light of the neon overhead our host’s scars become clearly visible.
Champa Das’ arms are lined with old cuts and her face is battered. Champa Das remarks, “The lady who owns this building rents out ten rooms like mine.Two and a half million women and children (around 500.000 prostitutes in India are under 16) are working in the country’s sex industry.More than 5 million people are already HIV positive.Unfortunately the scale of the trade makes things like this hard to enforce.” It’s hard to verify figures like this independently, but sex workers all over Calcutta tell a different story. They live with the disease, not knowing they are infected, because the DMSC is worried that HIV positive women will be ostracized.” Given the conservatism, the public double standards and secrecy surrounding AIDS/HIV, the epidemic is likely to get much worse.According to DMSC, HIV positive cases in Sonagachi have risen from just 1% in 1992 to 9% today.That’s what the pamphlet reads that Debashish Chowdury, the organisation’s monitoring officer, presses into my hand as we return to the Union’s offices. “Thanks to the DMSC, we get condoms very cheap, 5 condoms for 2 Rupees.