Kolkata: Retired sex workers from Asia's largest red-light district of Kolkata's Sonagachi, who are forced to live a life of penury after falling out of favour with customers because of advanced age, would soon be rehabilitated in a new home.
As part of the West Bengal government's plan to rehabilitate disabled, sick and old sex workers living in Kolkata, two buildings would house the rehabilitation centres which would have all facilities including food, clothing, shelter and healthcare.
"The idea is to give them a home to spend the rest of their lives with dignity and comfort," Sashi Panja, parliamentary secretary to women and social welfare department, told PTI.
Under the instructions of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, she did a survey in Sonagachi and found around 750 such old sex workers.
Having poor access to health care facilities, sex workers have high HIV infection rates.
"Many of them are ill and have no source of income left. Some are forced to beg. There is no one to take care of them. Under this programme, we will give them free medical facilities, health cards and ration at free of cost or at subsidised rates," she said.
The state cabinet has already cleared a proposal to set up two such rehab homes for around 200 such sex workers.
The project would be undertaken by the state Social Welfare Department.
State urban development minister Firhad Hakim said two houses had been identified south Kolkata which would be converted into rehab centres and named "Muktir Alo" (Light of Freedom).
The government also has a plan for minor children of sex workers.
"We are thinking of a residential school for them where at least 100 such children will be given food and education free of cost," Panja said.
The news has been welcomed by elderly sex workers in Sonagachi.
A 45-year-old sex worker whose only child is also now into the flesh trade, said, "My savings are less than 50,000. I have no one to take care of me as my daughter works in another brothel. Even if I am ready to work outside Sonagachi, no one will give me any work now".
She said this rehabilitation programme is like a life-saving initiative for older women like her.
According to estimates by 'Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee' (DMSC) which works for the rights of sex workers, there are around 4000 old sex-workers who now work as babysitters, maids, cooks or die a silent death in various brothels of the state.
DMSC founder Smarajit Jana said the state government's initiative is a very good one, provided it is organised in a proper way.