Bengal’s rehab scheme for sex workers benefits only 75 in 3 years

Kolkata (IANS) Only 75 sex workers have benefitted from the West Bengal Government’s Muktir Alo (‘light of freedom’) scheme since its inception in 2016, an RTI query by a Kolkata advocate has revealed.

The scheme aims to rehabilitate sex workers who want to exit the profession, as also victims of sex trafficking, and enable them earn a living.

Advocate Vipan Kumar lodged a Right to Information (RTI) query with the West Bengal Women Development Undertaking last October wanting to know details about the implementation and outcome of the scheme.

“I had asked how many of the survivors had applied for the scheme. It was clarified that only NGOs could apply. Two NGOs were approved out of six that had applied. Shockingly, only 75 sex workers and survivors of sex trafficking have benefited from the scheme since its inception,” Kumar told IANS.

According to him, Muktir Alo should focus on communities that are collectives of survivors rather than just allowing NGOs that run shelter homes or have experience in women development.

The NCRB data states that 3,579 individuals were trafficked out of West Bengal in 2016 – 44 per cent of the nation’s total trafficked population. “So we expect the schemes to give maximum benefits,” he said.

The state government, however, said one should not focus merely on numbers to assess its success.

“Muktir Alo is mainly for sex workers, and rehabilitation is not an easy process. So do not just focus on the numbers. Bringing back even a single woman to mainstream society is an achievement.

“If more organisations come, they will be benefitted from the scheme,” Women Development, Social Welfare and Child Development Minister Sashi Panja told IANS.

The RTI poser brought out that NGOs Women Interlink Foundation (WIF) and Divine Script (DS) have trained 50 and 25 beneficiaries. WIF trained 20 of them in hand block printing, 20 in cutting and tailoring and 10 in spice grinding. ADS trained 12 in product making, using recycled tyres and 13 in cafeteria management.

According to the RTI reply, Rs 31,49,260 was allotted to DS and Rs 24,24,000 to WIF for implementing the scheme.

“The department says both the NGOs have utilised the entire allotted fund and trained only 75 survivors till date. It shows that around Rs 75,000 thousand was spent on each survivor for their training and it is a good indicator,” Kumar said.

“If there is wider dissemination of the scheme then more NGOs can come forward and implement the scheme,” he added.

Presently, the scheme reaches out to a rescued victim of sex trafficking sheltered at a protective home or is released in the care of her family and booked under ITP Act.

The primary law on trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (ITPA), 1986 and punishes offences, including procuring a person for the purpose of prostitution, living on the earnings of prostitution of another person and keeping or using a brothel.

Seeking a clarification of this provision, Kumar had asked: “If a person who is a resident of West Bengal and a victim of sex trafficking but is not sheltered in protective homes or is not released in the care of her family but is booked under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act in West Bengal, whether such a victim will be eligible as a candidate under the said scheme?”

“The instruction by the department is very vague as it has not clarified as to who will refer such matters to the department on a case to case basis,” he added.

“When Muktir Alo was launched, as a part of the project our girls were given training in acting. Around eighteen women had participated, got studio exposure but there have been no proper link ups for future work,” said Smarajit Jana, chief advisor of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (sex workers’ forum) and principal of the Sonagachi Research and Training Institute in Asia’s largest red light area.

Jana mentioned that along with the buzz of the scheme two to three girls got small roles as extras on screen but nothing happened further.

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