The 50-lakh-strong community of sex workers in India is seriously considering to opt for the NOTA option while exercising their franchise in the Lok Sabha election to register protest against deprivation and apathy.
Since independence, political parties of all hues have promised development for the community, but they are all just promises, president of All India Network for Sex Workers (AINSW) Bharati Dey said.
"What did we get after 67 years of Independence? We are still treated as if we are a baggage for the society. The country will soon have its 16th Lok Sabha, but we are yet to get any benefits of development," Dey told PTI.
No political party bothered to act on promises made to them while seeking votes. Once the election was over, all of them conveniently forgot the sex workers' existence, Dey complained, adding they felt frustrated.
The AINSW is a network representing the voice of sex workers spread across 16 states and also serves as an umbrella body for 90 smaller bodies across the country.
She pointed out that more than 80 per cent of sex workers possessed voter identity cards and they have their family members too.
"So you can fairly guess how many votes we command. May be we are a minority, but minority votes do make a difference," Dey, who also heads the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a sex workers' organisation which has one lakh 30 thousand registered Sex workers under it, said.
Asked what they would do if the exercising the NOTA option failed to move the political parties, she said that the next line of action would be obviously to fight election themselves.
"We can't straightway win, but we can eat into the voter base of political parties," Dey said with a wry smile. MORE ex workers to exercise NOTA option in protest against apathy
According to AINSW officials, on the occasion of International Sex Workers day on March three, the organisation had sent a letter to all political parties containing plans and programmes for sex workers and an appeal to include some, if not all, in their manifestos.
"Nothing happened," Amit, coordinating officer of AINSW, said.
The AINSW letter placed a charter of demands including pension rights for retired sex workers, withdrawal of Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, legalisation of the profession and steps for providing proper education to the children of sex workers.
Kusum, general secretary of the AINSW, points out that it is very difficult for a sex worker, who is normally the single bread winner in the family and has a working life of upto 45 years of age, to meet the post-retirement needs.
She also regrets that the sex workers are still having to fight for recognition as "equal citizens" - all because of the stigma attached to their profession.
Claiming that their profession has a role in the development of society, she says that the presence of sex workers have prevented many potential rapes.
"Just imagine a society without sex workers. The number of rapes would have tripled if the world's oldest profession had not existed," Dey said.