Sari Bari: Indian Sex Workers’ Alternative to Red Light District
An an Indian quilt and bag company which employs women trapped in the sex trade has appointed two former sex workers to its board, its co-founder said, calling the move a first in the industry.
Sarah Lance, who helped to set up Sari Bari a decade ago to provide sex trafficking victims with alternative means of earning a living, said the company had also invited 19 of its women workers to become shareholders in the firm.
The company, located on the fringes of Sonagachi, Kolkata's red light district, employs 120 women to stitch old saris together to create quilts and bags - with each item named after the woman who made it.
"It is their company," said Lance, who won the 2016 Opus prize for non-profit innovation and humanitarian work.
Initially, the women had to be convinced to work for Sari Bari.
"Now we have a waiting list of women wanting to join us," Lance said, adding that the company planned to hire another 150 women in the next five years.
In September, the National Crime Records Bureau said cases of human trafficking in India increased to 6,877 cases last year, from 5,466 in 2014 - a jump of more than 25 percent.
Former sex workers Chaya and Supriya, who asked to be identified only by their first names, were unanimously voted to Sari Bari's board at a meeting in September.
Campaigners said providing survivors of human trafficking with an alternative source of income to sex work was crucial in preventing them from being re-trafficked.
Cultivating pride in new skills was also important in helping survivors to recover from their ordeal, experts said.
"That sense of pride is actually very important," said Sarfaraz Ahmed Khan, an assistant professor at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences who has written manuals on efforts to combat trafficking.
"Besides economic stability, they are looking for a dignified life. These opportunities give them that," he said.
(This article was published in an arrangement with the Thompson Reuters Foundation)
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