July 22 – 24 2020
In July 2020, we at the Laws of Social Reproduction Project held a three-day interdisciplinary workshop on the state of sex work-related research and mobilisation in India. The workshop had an exciting range of panellists from activist, legal and academic backgrounds, and included panels on the state of the Indian sex workers’ movement, intersections of caste identity and sex work, the political economy of sex work, mobilisation and advocacy, and the challenges of countering anti-trafficking and neo-abolitionist organizations.
Diverse Trajectories, Resilient Struggles: Taking Stock of the Indian Sex Workers’ Movement
In the past decade, the question of sex workers’ rights in India has grown ever-more fraught, provoking heated debates amongst feminists about both the emancipatory possibilities and limits of recognizing sex work as “work”. Sex worker-led collectives (VAMP, DMSC, NNSW, and AINSW) and materialist feminists have long argued that sex work should be considered work, meriting greater legal protection and a recognition of women’s economic agency. They argue that millions of migrant workers, mostly women, find sex work to be a better livelihood option than other kinds of precarious labour. On the other hand, abolitionist groups in India such as Apne Aap Women Worldwide, Prajwala, and Shakthi Vahini are gaining ever-more influence, joined by global anti-trafficking activists and governance feminists who conflate all sex work with “modern slavery” and “trafficking”. Anti-caste activists and dalit feminists have offered a critical third perspective, arguing that when sex work is performed as a caste-based practice, legitimizing it as “work” might implicitly endorse caste domination.