A Corner to Call Their Own

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Kolkata sex workers win their right to host their own Durga puja

KOLKATA ~ Traffic standing still is a common sight in Kolkata during Durga puja, which starts on 9 October. But when a city sex workers’ organisation wanted to organise a puja, the local police refused permission citing traffic congestion. The Durbar Mohila Samannay Committee (DMSC), an NGO working for the upliftment of sex workers in Sonagachi, Kolkata’s main redlight area, had asked for 150 sq ft at the intersection of Abinash Kabiraj Road and Masjid Bari Lane in north Kolkata to organise a public Durga puja. When refused, representatives of DMSC moved the Calcutta High Court, alleging foul play. Admitting the plea, Justice Sanjib Banerjee on 17 September directed the city Police Commissioner S Kar Purakayastha to file a report detailing the guidelines regulating the erection of puja pandals in Kolkata. The case had been filed the previous week when the petitioners’ lawyer Arunava Ghosh submitted pictures and reports allegedly exposing how the same police station had earlier allowed a traders’ body to hold a Ganesh puja by encroaching on around 1,000 sq ft of road. The judge directed the Burtolla police to file an affidavit explaining why the women represented by DMSC were denied permission. The government lawyer claimed that the Ganesh puja was held without any police permission. “I would have been happier if you had demolished the unauthorised pandal,” said the judge. Naming a famous South Kolkata puja patronised by a senior minister of the government, he lamented the police’ tendency to act tough only against vulnerable populations. The concerned minister immediately issued a public statement denying any wrongdoing. Stung by Justice Banerjee’s direction seeking a report on the granting of official permission to Public Durga puja organisers, the state government filed a revision petition with a new bench of the Calcutta High Court. This two-judge bench has now ruled that the puja can be held at the DMSC’s office premises and appointed three special observers to ensure that the celebrations pass off amicably.