Sex Workers and Land rights in Kerala
A [Green Youth] mailing list forward from a friend. Read. It illustrates a key point that was brought up in the Kerala Feminists listserv recently, on the interconnectiveness of sexuality rights and other forms of oppressions.
Ousting the Sex Workers: An Invisible land Issue in Kerala
Even among the claims for land and struggles for land rights by the marginalized there are situations which never go on record as claims and struggles. Presently sex workers of Kozhikode who are marginalized among marginalized are engaged in one such invisible agitation.
Most of the sex workers in Kozhikode are living in Bangladesh Colony lying at the outskirts of the town, near to the sea shore. It was a vacant area encroached upon by the marginalized people for the last fifty years or so. Sex workers started occupying the place only within the last 30 years. Some brought the land by paying money to the then occupied and later got title deeds, while some others occupied vacant areas. In the beginning it was a deserted place with only thorny bushes and no water facilities. Now the place had become inhabitable. Some of the sex workers who worked with the political party committees in that area bargained with them and got water and other facilities.
But now Janakeeya Samithi, formed by the CPI (M), has given the ultimatum that only those women who are ready to stop doing sex work will be allowed to stay in that place. Most of the sex workers had built houses there with their savings and their children are studying in the nearby schools. Usually they come to the town to do sex work and return home early in the morning. Now if they want to stay with their children they will have to stop with sex work and if they stop sex work they and their children will starve. Or they can live in another place without being able to come home and see their children every day (who cares for the needs of motherhood of a sex worker!). In the beginning CPI (M) gave the women some underpaid and insecure part time work and even that is stopped now. Around forty women were forced to leave the house as their houses were burned down and are living on the pavements and construction lots. Even that has become
difficult now as Janakeeya Samithi is on move to clean Kozhikode city and they don’t want to besmirch town with the presence of sex workers.
The petition given by the sex workers to the authorities had disappeared and none of them are aware of the status of the case filed by them. Even the police are asking for the approval of Janakeeya samithy to take up the cases on atrocities against sex workers. Janakeeya samithy has become parallel governmental institution and this is alarming as they take upon themselves to be the moral police as well. As they have brought up the accusations of sex workers being drug carriers the public sympathy is also with them. But sex workers whom I talked to are against the drug trafficking as it effects the health of their own children and more over they accused that members of Janakeeya Samithi to be in league with the drug mafia of that area. They also told that they the suspect this to be a ploy for the real estate agents to buy that land from the present owners for nominal price. In a press conference conducted by FIRM-JWALA, an organization supporting sex workers, the sex workers narrated their plight to the media personnel and the press conveniently highlighted only the version by Janakeeya Samithy.
CPI (M) is trying out the same move in other towns as well. In Kannur an office bearer of Snehatheeram, a group by transgenders and male sex workers told me how the Kannur municipality tried to push them out of the town as part of an attempt to provide them with housing facilities but which actually turned out to be a dump yard chocked with wild shrubs. Most of these people had to forego their rights over their ancestral property and their community rights due to their ‘deviant’ sexual choices. They had to leave their family and were living in very insecure condition on the streets until they found land in Bangladesh colony. But now when they are driven away from that place they are also losing the security that a house can provide and along with it, their political rights to join a party, to vote and to have access to other social security measures.
We can also see that the situation is further compounded on other axes of power as well. Many of the sex workers, who come from lower castes, find that once they change the residence they will have to produce new caste certificate in order to avail the stipend their children are receiving in educational institutions. But the law which now stipulates that mother’s caste is immaterial in deciding their children’s caste and the fatherhood is which counts had taken care to see that it becomes extremely difficult for their children to continue their studies, thus in effect limiting their future choices. This sudden withdrawal of the existing educational support had resulted in a crisis for these students. As an activist of the sex worker’s organization in Kozhikode asked me, ‘so now they want my daughter also to be a sex worker?’
So now I want to ask left intellectuals waxing eloquent on Munnar a simple question, ‘Do you have any stand point on this issue except for legitimizing the hooliganism of local CPI (M) cadres? Where should they go? Or should they lose their work and starve, just to remain where they are? By sanctioning the ‘clean and smart upper middle class) cities’ are you not degrading into an elite bunch of experts? The rights of people who do not fall within the boundaries of Elite citizen ship (which is the only citizen ship in theory and practice), and the existential struggles brewing in the thickly populated ‘boundaries’ to claim exactly that citizen ship have to stimulate the political imagination of current intellectual enterprises. This calls for a radical rethinking of all the founding concepts of democracy. Hope the traditional left theoretician will at least concede that “economic” criteria alone won’t justify/explain the experiences I have described above. Owners are denied rights out of social stigma. In our discourses there is an implied and invisible assumption that ownership of land is an exclusive right of certain particular sections belonging to particular castes, to particular jobs and conforming to acceptable moral standards.