Sex workers are not always victims

sex and internet

Sex workers are increasingly using the Internet for finding business, organising themselves, and fighting for their rights. The Internet allows them to find work without leaving home or revealing their identities. They use social media, upload videos, have their own websites and use mobile applications in order to implore and connect with their clients online. In India for instance the mobile phones have taken them by storm. All of sex workers have a cell phone. Some of them have two mobile phones, one for their family and one for their clients. They have different ringtones for their clients, know the preferences of what song to play when the client calls (Rao, 2014). However sometimes usage of the new technology comes with drawbacks , such as vulnerability of being cheated and defrauded of their earnings.

Usage of media goes even further. It takes shape of sex workers’ online activism, which extensively gives them voice and presence.

In 2002, Sangali based NGO Sangram initiated the first email campaign for sex workers’ rights in India after following accident where one prostitute was assaulted and threaten with rape by the police. As a result chief minister of Karnataka who was the only chief minister in India with an email was bombarded with a huge number of emails from other sex workers from all over the world. Those emails become a fundament for sending a petition to National Human Rights Commission, which initiated action against the errant police personnel. Creation of  VAMP, community based organisation for sex workers in South India followed the success of the Sangram campgain.  VAMP (Prostitutes Collective Against Injustice) made a video in response to Sarah Harris’s documentary ‘Prostitutes of God’ for Vice US magazine.  This documentary features some of the VAMP members , their work and family lives in over- painted manner.  They become stereotyped, victimised subject from Global South, an end product only watching the film ; while film makers are citizens of superior Global North. Moreover film does not investigates the root causes of poverty , but obsesses with prostitution industry. The matter is fetishised. Some women are more vulnerable to HIV while being married because they are not able to ask their husbands to use condom. To some sex workers their deliberately chosen profession gives freedom.

VAMP members were very upset by how they are portrayed in the film. They have used their media to speak up about the film – read their below statement and watch the video directed to the film’s producers.

“If I had come to your town and insulted your Gods, would you have liked it?… O white woman, you have insulted our devi and our women. We demand you apologise to us. Accept you have made a mistake. We will not forgive you,” says Bhimavva, a sex worker in a video (in Rao, 2014)

Vamp’s members do not want to be “saved” by foreign organisations; they want to be treated with respect, as humans who have capacity to determine their own destinies and fight social injustice while working together. Online spaces can hold power for the collective action, women’s empowerment and improvement of their working conditions and rights (Cornwall, 2012). So let’s keep talking.

Moreover solidarity of Indian sex workers is about engaging beyond the click of the mouse. Internet does not necessarily leads to greater integration due to restrictive policies on external links on web pages adopted by the civic society. But internet with its networks can assist collective identity and reinforce solidarity (Fenton in Cammaerts and Carpentier, 2007: 236). Mutual trust and shared understanding is a important drive for a collective action.

Cammaerts, B and Carpentier, N (2007) Reclaiming media: Communication rights and democratic media roles. Intellect: Bristol, UK

Cornwall A (2012) Indian sex workers are shining example of women’s empowerment. Guardian:

Rao M (2014) Sex work and the Internet. Gender It Organisation Blog

Ray A (2010) Indian Sex Workers Fight back against Misrepresentation. Waking Vixen Blog:

Rennie, E (2006) Community Media: A Global Introduction. London: Rowman & Littlefields

Lori A ( 2010) The Means to Speak for Themselves: Sex workers in India respond to Flawed ‘Prostitutes of God’ Film.

Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody in the Context of India and the Digital Divide

Shirky shows in his book “Here Comes Everybody” the potential of the Web 2.0 and its participatory character. The everybody is limited to people with an Internet access, though. By looking on India, it is important to stress the digital divide is a major threat. The digital divide is the limitation of the access and accessibility of ICTs and therefore to the Internet as well. This excludes many people, who could participate and become active media producers and profit of the new media revolution of “participatory media”, which Shirky stresses in his book.

Narrowing the digital divide, by improving the access and accessibility to ICTs and the Internet, could be beneficial for the Indian society and help to make use of the participatory character of the Web 2.0.

The statistics used by Pick and Sarkar (2015, pp.155-156) show how the digital divide translates into numbers. For example, in Mumbai there are only 2.5 Internet subscribers per 100 inhabitants. This is a fairly low number compared to 61 mobile phone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants and shows that the mobile phone as a gatekeeper to the Internet would be a possible solution with increasing smartphone adoption.

While there is a huge digital divide in India, India is also the second biggest market for mobile phones in general, looking on the total numbers of mobile phone subscriptions. This means more and more people can potentially participate in the Web 2.0, when utilising a mobile device, which is able to connect to the Internet. Shirky’s point is still important for the Indian context and potentially helpful for development, if the participatory character can be used by more and more people, with a narrowing digital divide. The Internet offers not only room for collaboration, but also participation in the world largest democracy, while ICT literacy and accessibility remain one of the major threats (Pick & Sarkar, 2015, p.155).

Shrike’s theory of “Here Comes Everybody” is, of course, a little Eurocentric, as everybody does not include everybody across the Indian society, yet.



Pick, J. B., & Sarkar, A. (2015). India’s Digital Divide. In The Global Digital Divides (pp. 155-195). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

The “Culture of Rape” and the Try to Tackle It with ICT


India is not a good country for women’s safety and rape or molestation are present across the everyday life. The movie “India’s daughter“, which soon has been banned in India, portrays the rape and murder of the 23 years old medical student in Delhi. She was brutally gang raped and murdered on a bus at night. This is not an exemption but rather can be used as representative case for the “culture of rape” that is often linked to India.

We see that rape is a serious problem, but how can technology be utilized for it? India is the second biggest mobile phone market in the world. The number of people owning a mobile phone is growing and for women in the city, it is very common to own a smartphone. Therefore, it might seem obvious that an app might be a solution to the problem, in the context of ICT4D. There is an app that has been originally developed in the USA called “circle of 6”.  After the gang rape of the 23 year old, the download increased around a 1000 percent in India and even a Hindi version has been developed. The app links people to persons of trusts. The options are numerous, for example sending an emergency massage to the persons of trust or making an emergency call. The outcomes of this app are not evaluated, yet. As smartphones are easy to carry around and often in the use anyway, the app might be a valuable addition to make women feel more save in the public alone.

The app, therefore, has been adopted to the local needs of India. It is an example of the contextual adoption of ICTs and shows that there can be exchanges of knowledge/ICT resources between the Global North and the Global South, if the local context is regarded. While the app has its roots in a campaign by President Obama against abuse in the United States.


Soap operas are changing the world one episode at the time




Taru is a young educated woman who worked in Suhagpur village’s center, an organisation that provides health services, carries self-help activities and fights injustice by mobilising community action. She is idealistic, intelligent and polite. A Bihari from a higher caste, she befriended the likeable Shashikant who is also involved in social work, but he is from the lower caste. Together they challenged many of the prejudices of in a society where caste and gender taboos were strictly enforced.

In rural Bihar, girls children are subject of despair, where sex or family planning is difficult to talk about, child marriage or new-born girls killing are common happenings. But fictional characters of Taru and her friends inspired a real change in community.

The Hindi speaking population of rural north India has a population topping 600 million people. And in the rural hinterland, radio is still the most accessible medium. Taru was one of the most popular radio dramas ever to be broadcasted in India, with an estimated audience of 60-75 million people. It was a 52 –episode entertainment education radio soap opera, broadcast in India from 2002 till 2003. Each episode of Taru began with a theme song and it has ended with en epilogue that posed a reflexive question to the listeners inviting them to write in their responses to All India Radio, the Indian national network that broadcast Taru.

A community transformed:

Inspired by character Neha, who establishes a school to educate dalit (a lower caste) children in the fictional storyline, young man and unmarried women, listeners of Taru for the first time come together to establish a school for dalit children in Abipur.

Moved by celebration of a young girl’s birthday in Taru storyline, a couple in Madhopur village decide to celebrate their daughter birthday. Boys and girls receive different treatment and only sons’ birthday was joyful occasion for a celebration so far. The action of this couple led to string of celebrations for girls in Madhopur with sweets, balloons and cakes.

Vandana’s, another listener family undertook a few social actions, which previously would have been unthinkable. During the wedding celebration of the Vandana’s elder sister within 600 guests being invited, dalits were invited to prepare and serve food in public. So far their roles were only limited to cleaning of toilets and collecting garbage. This family engaged in conversation and dialogue about the social issues with other community members who came with a resistance of breaking a tradition. Once tradition was broken , new codes of social behaviour about participation of dalits were legitimised through further amplification . The daughters urged her friends to do the same . Taru played a key role in empowering communities to make a tough choices with courage and conviction. Discussions, dialogues and conversations among the audience members clarified doubts, overcome fear of breaking patriarchal norms and provide a sense of collective efficacy to act.

Gandhi who has led India freedom struggle believed that each of us need to embody the change we wish to see as opposed to changing others. By changing ourselves we can change others. Communities of Bihar and Madhopur started to define problems in themselves and deciding on how their community whey live in should look like. Power of collective imagination once again.

It reminds me of the Arora and Rangaswamy article (2013) that argues that ‘adopting the narrow development lens can miss actual engagement strategies communities use to instate technologies in their every day life (903)’. Entertainment, for instance soap operas not only gives people daily pleasure, thus enables emotional connection and engagement. Entertainment, leisure can become a key behavioural tool that enhances technology use.

Arora, P., Rangaswamy, N. (2013) Digital leisure for development: reframing new media practise in the global south, Media Culture Society 35

Singhal, Rao, Pant (2006) Entertainment and Possibilities for Second- Order Social Change. Journal of Creative Communication 1 (3) 

Singhal, Harter, Chitnis & Sharma (2007) Participatory photography as theory, method and praxis: analysing an entertainment education project in India. Critical Arts 21 (1) 

Singhal, A. & Rogers, E. M. (2004). The status of entertainment-education worldwide. In A. Singhal, M. J. Cody, E. M. Rogers, & M. Sabido (Eds.), Entertainment-education and social change: History, research, and practice (pp. 3-20). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Yala N (2015) The Role of Community Radio in empowering women in India. Mass Communication Journalism 5 (2)