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14 Nov 2016

Kolkata's red light area unaffected by demonetization

Following PM Narendra Modi's announcement to discontinue Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes, a lot of cash based businesses in India hit a new low.

However, Sonagachi in Kolkata, the largest red light area in South Asia, is reportedly unaffected by the central government's decision.

We take a look at how sex trade, which is generally cash based, adjusted to the changes.

In context

Demonetization and the sex trade in Kolkata

How the demonetization is affecting sex workers

"Generally, sex workers prefer to keep money in their homes but after demonetization, there is a rush among sex workers to deposit money in the [Usha Cooperative] bank," said Shantanu, a senior official of the Usha Cooperative Bank which was formed by former sex workers.

The reasons behind Sonagachi's immunity


The reasons behind Sonagachi's immunity

Sex workers in Sonagachi, through collective efforts and assurance from a local bank, are ensuring that the sex trade in Kolkata isn't affected by demonetization.

The local Usha Cooperative Bank assured sex workers that it would accept the discontinued notes and cash deposits from them till November 30.

As a result, sex workers are still accepting Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes.

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The influx of cash into the banks

In a normal day, the Usha Cooperative Bank does business of around Rs.5 lakh. However, in the two days since the demonetization, more than Rs.50 lakh in cash has been deposited by sex workers in their Usha Cooperative bank accounts.


A nuanced look at the situation in Sonagachi

In spite of booming business, sex workers in Sonagachi have been disparately affected.

While sex workers in the top categories are facing no problems as customers are only too eager to dispose of their high value notes, sex workers charging below Rs.500 have hardly had any customers since the demonetization.

Prospective customers are only choosing those sex workers who are accepting high value notes.

Problems for those without bank accounts

"Almost 30,000 sex workers have bank accounts with Usha bank. Those with no accounts might be a little worried but we would find a way out for them," said Bharati Dey, mentor of Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee which works towards betterment of sex workers.

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