Of Raids and Returns: Sex work movement, police oppression, and the politics of the ordinary in Sonagachi, India


  • Simanti Dasgupta




sex work, law, labour, raids, police violence, India


Drawing on ethnographic work with Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), a grassroots sex worker organisation in Sonagachi, the iconic red-light district in Kolkata, India, this paper explores the politics of the detritus generated by raids as a form of state violence. While the current literature mainly focuses on its institutional ramifications, this article explores the significance of the raid in its immediate relation to the brothel as a home and a space to collectivise for labour rights. Drawing on atyachar (oppression), the Bengali word sex workers use to depict the violence of raids, I argue that they experience the raid not as a spectacle, but as an ordinary form of violence in contrast to their extraordinary experience of return to rebuild their lives. Return signals both a reclamation of the detritus as well as subversion of the state’s attempt to undermine DMSC’s labour movement.


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Author Biography

Simanti Dasgupta

Simanti Dasgupta is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and a Human Rights Centre Fellow at the University of Dayton. Her overarching interest in the politics of citizenship in postcolonial and neoliberal nation-states links her works. She is currently preparing her book manuscript, tentatively titled Prophylactic Rights: Sex Work Movement, HIV/AIDS and Anti-Trafficking in Neoliberal India, based on her long-term ethnographic research with DMSC. She has published in the Journal of South Asian Studies, PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review, Open Democracy and is the author of BITS of Belonging: Information Technology, Water and Neoliberal Governance in India (Temple, 2015). Email: sdasgupta1@udayton.edu




How to Cite

Dasgupta, S. (2019). Of Raids and Returns: Sex work movement, police oppression, and the politics of the ordinary in Sonagachi, India. Anti-Trafficking Review, (12), 127–139. https://doi.org/10.14197/atr.201219128