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It had three components: the provision of health services; information and education on sexually transmitted diseases; and promotion of condom usage among sex workers.In addition, Jana's SHIP team remained clear about their approach.
No attempts were made to rescue or rehabilitate sex workers, nor were moral positions taken on their work.The emphasis instead was on improving the material conditions of sex workers and the communities in which they live and work. For sex workers, a regular checkup is an occupational necessity as the risk of STD or HIV infection (or re-infection) is an occupational health problem that they constantly face.Isolated and easily intimidated, the women were often powerless to resist demands from men to have unprotected sex.The realization of this link between health and power was the catalyst for the birth of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), the instrument through which Sonagachi's sex workers began to challenge centuries-old attitudes to themselves and to their work.The approach taken by the SHIP team in Sonagachi was unprecedented.The word "Durbar" means "unstoppable" or “indomitable” in Bangla.
It is also the name a group of Calcutta sex workers gave to a unique co-operative organization they founded 15 years ago in the brothel district of Sonagachi.
They formed Durbar with the purpose of giving sex workers the power to defend their human rights, decriminalizing sex work and having it recognized as a valid profession and improve the living and working conditions of sex workers and their communities. When the World Health Organization asked Jana and his team to lead an AIDS prevention project in Sonagachi in 1992, he already knew well the dire health risks faced by that neighbourhood's sex workers.
This is the story of how Durbar came to be, evolving eventually into the world famous USHA Multipurpose Co-operative that provides its sex worker members with everything from condoms, to health care, to credit. An epidemiologist teaching at the All India Institute, Jana had just finished the first baseline survey of Sonagachi's sex worker population, finding of the 450 women surveyed, 45 per cent used occasional contraception in some form with only 27 per cent using it regularly.
Only 2.7 per cent were able to insist on the use of condoms.
Laboratory results showed that of 360 sex workers tested, over 80 per cent were found infected with one or more STDs while about one per cent tested positive for HIV infection and four of these had syphilis.
The question uppermost in the minds of the women surveyed: "Will I be able to have a child?