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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Indian sex workers fight back with karate

Sex workers in India have had enough and are fighting back – literally.  The world’s oldest profession is still illegal in many countries.  This leaves sex workers vulneralbe to attack from customers and police. 

(Cross-posted at sexgenderbody)

There is a vast difference between the lives and daily existences of voluntary sex workers and those that are forced into sex work.  I choose to support the rights of consenting sex workers to make that choice.  I also support the rights of the human beings trapped in sex work to a life of dignity and equality.  I want people trapped in poverty to have other choices besides sex work to begin with and a way out for those seeking it.  Even those inside involuntary sex work deserve health care, freedom from persecution and violence and the protection from police from the crimes committed against them.

Jason Overdorf reports in The Global Post on the change in strategy for sex workers in Chennai, India. 

Scorned by society and ignored by the police, sex workers in the South Indian city of Chennai are learning karate to protect themselves against the beatings, robberies and rapes they say are part of a prostitute’s daily life here.

“Sometimes I make an agreement with one customer, and then later he tries to bring his friends along as well,” said Kalaiarasi, a woman who works as a prostitute near the Chennai neighborhood of Anna Nagar. “Other times they want to have sex with me and they beat me up so they don’t have to pay.”

Indian prostitutes in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta late April 30, 2004. More than 5,000 prostitutes held a rally to demand rights and recognition of their profession. Now, they’re taking action into their own hands. (Jayanta Shaw/Reuters)

Taking self-defense is both an act and a statement. 

It is the act of taking control in one’s life, which in many cases, is a life with very little ability to control anything.  Women in general and women in poverty especially, are deprived of control and even a voice in so many societies around the world. 

“The clients feel that the women are vulnerable,” Hariharan said. “If they pay, they can do anything [they believe]. We want to pass on a message that this is enough. That the women will protect themselves.”

“I have to keep going out after dark [because of my job],” Valli said. “Sometimes clients misbehave. Sometimes they refuse to pay. What we want is to be able to protect ourselves from hooligans.”

Karate training is also a message into the culture itself, taken independently of any change in status whether it be legal or social.  It tells men that these women will not tolerate abuse.  It is a declaration that screams: I am human and you will respect me.

“When you look at the [total] number of sex workers, the number who know self-defense is very less,” he said. “But we want to send this message across the country, (to) women in Kanyakumari and other districts of Tamil Nadu, or elsewhere in the country, maybe Rajasthan or Delhi or Gujarat. We want this message to be taken that sex workers can equip themselves to prevent violence against them.”




  1. psychodrew

    But my concern even with the voluntary sex trade is with the coercive power of money and whether it undermines consent.

    Still, it’s good to see these women standing up for themselves.  Sex workers should not be stigmatized for their work and dismissed by law enforcement.

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