Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee
In Bengali, the word ‘Durbar’ means unbeatable or unstoppable. The Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee represents 65,000 sex-workers (Male, Female & Transgender) and is active in identifying and challenging the underlying socio-structural factors that help perpetuate stigma material deprivation and social exclusion of sex-workers.
In 1992, Durbar helped launched a vertical HIV intervention program. The objective was to initiate STD and HIV prevention program in Sonagachi, a red light zone in Kolkata, India. The intervention program started with three principal components: provision of health services including STD treatment; information, education and communication (IEC); and condom programming. The program was pivotal for its ‘peer based approach’. Sex workers from the community were recruited and provided training on health and HIV; they were promoted as peers and outreach workers and they spread HIV related messages among their colleagues and friends to encourage them to utilize clinical services and condoms.
Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee took over the management of STD/HIV Intervention Program in 1999 and started replicating the basic principles and guiding policies of ‘Sonagachi Project’ in other red light areas in the city. The organization has made special efforts to reach an increasing number of sex workers. The basic approaches what Sonagachi adopted can be summed up as three ‘R’s’: Respect, Reliance and Recognition. That is respect towards sex workers, reliance on them to run the programme and recognition of their professionalism and their agency. In practice the Project focused on translating this approach into a relationship of mutual trust and rapport between the community of sex workers and the staff members of the Project.