Online escort services log out sex workers of Sonagachi

Online escort services log out sex workers of Sonagachi

Sex workers of Sonagachi take part in an agitation in Kolkata.

The spurt in online escort services has badly hit the business at Kolkata’s Sonagachi, the largest red-light district in south Asia.

In the last one-and-a-half years, online escort services have steadily eaten into the income of about 11,000 sex workers of Sonagachi. According to Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, the largest organisation of sex workers in West Bengal, the average income of these sex workers has dropped by about 25%.

“The livelihood of nearly 11,000 sex workers at Sonagachi is in jeopardy because of the proliferation of online escort services. These escort services are luring away people under the guise of sophistication and privacy,” Bharati Dey, president of Durbar told DH.

She further alleged that most of the online escort services “cheat customers” and rob them when they arrive at a designated place decided by middlemen. “Most of these escort services cheat customers. Following a conversation on social media, these escort services ask the customers to come to a certain place and then rob them. A snatching racket is being run in the name of escort services,” said Dey.

According to the sex workers of Sonagachi, they are mainly divided into three categories in terms of income. Those who belong to the first category earn about Rs 2.5 lakh a month, out of which they have to pay Rs.1 lakh rent for the accommodation they use for business. There are at least 2,000 sex workers in the first category.

“It is the first category sex workers who are among the worst affected by the growth of online escort services. Since they do not come out on the streets to solicit customers, they are totally dependent on middlemen, who are being outmatched by the online escort services,” said Dey.

The sex workers belonging to the second category - about 5,000 of them - earn about Rs 70,000 a month and have to spend nearly Rs 20,000 on rent. They are also badly hit by the online escort services.

However, according to Dey, the remaining 4,000 sex workers, who belong to the third rung, are not much affected by the online services as they mostly roam around the streets to get customers and are not dependent on middlemen.

Asked why online escort services were preferred, a section of sex workers said affluent customers often do not want to come to Sonagachi fearing breach of privacy. “They prefer to strike online deals with assured secrecy,” said a sex worker.

Members of Durbar alleged that they have repeatedly written to Kolkata police and local Trinamool Congress (TMC) leadership about their problem but no action has been taken. “We are fed up. If action is not taken by the top rung of the administration, the issue will never be resolved,” said Dey.