Sharada gets her own Ration card --------

Prof. Prabha Desai
Posted October 15, 2019 from India

 When Sanmitra  Trust stated working among sex workers in 2000, the first thing we noticed was that our sex worker women were living without any citizenship identity and entitlements. Faced with severe stigma and discrimination in mainstream society, our women lived faceless, nameless existence. In fact for their protection, women used to tell different names at different places such as police station hospitals, etc. We realized that it was their helplessness and desperation which made them hide their real identity.  However, their strategy of self-protection made them even more vulnerable and easy prey / soft targets to violence against women. and deprived them of citizenship entitlements.

{In India, housewives are considered good women obeying husband and inlaw's orders and begetting children, especially sons. Whereas sex workers are considered wrong and bad women with a loose character. One who is out to destroy men and spoil marriages.}

Our women also internalized and accepted these norms and considered themselves bad and wrong women.  So they used to hide their names, addresses income status, etc. 

Our women could not get Ration Card meant for food security, they could not get voter ID for participation in the election, they could not open Bank Account and kept savings under the pillow. The parasite sucker husbands and lovers often used to cheat them and loot their money. Even if a sex worker was stabbed and murdered, nobody came forward to lodge a complaint and identify the body. Thus women were deprived of all the citizenship entitlements. 

Through the efforts of Sanmitra trust, our women got organized  We helped them to enhance their bargaining power  visa vis the Government. One immediate victory was that the state Government agreed to issue a circular to the effect that sex worker women should get ration cards for availing food security for their children and family members.  

We pressurized the Government department to issue specific and separate Circular for sex workers who were fully cooperating in the daunting task of AIDS epidemic control. The circular specifically stated that the Rationing Inspector should visit the house of a sex worker and see whether she is cooking there and not ask any other question regarding her livelihood.

We then handed over 20 applications to the Rationing officer who also agreed to cooperate. He sent a lady rationing inspectress to visit the houses of our women. She was corrupt and was disappointed. She knew that she was not in a position to ask for a bribe.

It so happened that she visited the house of Sharada [ One of the applicant] counted no of children and family members. As per circular, she was not expected to ask Sharada any questions about her livelihood. However, she entered a neighboring house and asked whether Sharada was a practicing prostitute.  Sharada was furious. She was illiterate but knew very well provisions in the circular. She confronted the rationing Inspectress then and there and shouted at her ---asked her if she had not read the circular where it is mentioned that she was not supposed to ask any questions. How dare she entered a neighbor's house and asked such embarrassing questions.  The Rationing Inspectress got frightened and left the place. 

Sharad came to our office and asked us to lodge a formal complaint  on her behalf. We lodged a complaint on her behalf. The senior Rationing Officer realized the seriousness of the complaint. He asked the inspectress to apologize in writing or else face action.  She promptly apologized. I convinced her that by asking the neighbor's house she violated the privacy and dignity of a sex worker. The inspectress called all the twenty sex workers and handed over Ration cards to all of them. Sharada was one of them. Both Sharada and Inspetress shook hands. I patted Sharadafor her exceptional courage. Ispite of being illiterate, she knew the contents of the circular and could successfully confront the Govt Official.

This is how Sharad won her ration card.

Comments 7

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Anita Shrestha
Oct 15, 2019
Oct 15, 2019

Thank you for sharing, keep it continue

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Oct 15, 2019
Oct 15, 2019

Hello, Prof. Prabha,

It’s sad when women like Sharada are deprived of basic rights because of their line of work which is usually not their choice if better opportunities where given to them.

Thank you for giving us a context on how sex workers are treated in India. I love how Sharada stood up for herself and how your organization helped her and 19 other women to receive ration cards.

Please keep up the great work!

Jill Langhus
Oct 16, 2019
Oct 16, 2019

Hi Prof. Desai,

How are you doing? Wow! That's impressive that you're restoring these women's identities as well as empowering them. I'm glad to hear that you praised Sharada for her courage and bravery. I hope the the inspector doesn't do that again after that. Thanks for sharing your inspiring story, and please keep empowering more women!

Hope you're doing well, and having a great week!

Beth Lacey
Oct 16, 2019
Oct 16, 2019

Great outcome to a horrible situation

Stella Paul
Oct 17, 2019
Oct 17, 2019

Dear Prabhaji
What an inspirational story! Not only a woman gets her rights to a vital document (economic rights) but also gets her rights to dignity and I see your leadership imprints all over this! Love the way you are providing strength to the women who live within the margins on so many levels: helping them become more aware of their rights, questioning those who violate these, making them tough enough to fight and finally, strengthening their voices. I am so proud of your work and wish you so much success! Lots of love, Stella

Oct 19, 2019
Oct 19, 2019

Dear Prof. Desai,
Thank you for your sharing and your effort through Sanmitra in working for a very vulnerable group. Its hell to live without identity, which leads to the various types of socio, economic and other exploitations. So good to hear that Sharada got a ration card, it's starting for their security and hope it continue to other large number of people, those are facing this kind of deprivations.
Please continue your great work and posting the updates, we would love to hear you.
best regards,

Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi
Oct 28, 2019
Oct 28, 2019

Hello Prof. Prabha,
Thank you for your story. Looking forward to more of your stories and updates.
Have a blessed day.