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“Rights to Stop the Wrong”: Cultural Change and Collective Mobilization—The Case of Kolkata Sex Workers


  • Nandini Gooptu
  • Nandinee Bandyopadhyay


In the past decade-and-a-half, sex workers in Kolkata (India) red-light districts have involved themselves in a STD-HIV health project and, at the same time, formed an autonomous organization to protest against exploitation and to challenge social norms that ostracize them. This paper examines how this marginalized group, who previously saw themselves as socially alienated victims, came to reinvent themselves as social actors, endowed with a sense of collective rights and capacity. The analytical focus is on the transformation of the worldview and self-perception of sex workers, and on the specific aspects of the development intervention that facilitated this transition. The following elements were found to be most significant: (a) the establishment of an egalitarian organizational culture in the health project; (b) the introduction of a dialogic educational programme; and (c) the development of a culture of political activism among sex workers, animated by a notion of their right to protest against injustice and inequality. The study draws attention to the change of attitudes and identity as the key factor propelling the engagement of the socially excluded and the poor in development processes and public action. By analysing this largely neglected theme in development literature, this paper contributes to debates on the question of participation from a hitherto under-explored perspective.

Suggested Citation

  • Nandini Gooptu & Nandinee Bandyopadhyay, 2007. "“Rights to Stop the Wrong”: Cultural Change and Collective Mobilization—The Case of Kolkata Sex Workers," Oxford Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 35(3), pages 251-272.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:oxdevs:v:35:y:2007:i:3:p:251-272 DOI: 10.1080/13600810701514811

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