“There Was An Uproar”: Reading The Arcane of Reproduction Through Sex Work in India


“if your life is a struggle to survive and to support others, then you won’t be concerned with whether the work you can get is dignified or not… One must emphasize the meaningless of this divide over and over again, in different ways… There are two ways you can pluck a ripe mango.  You can either strike it down the hard way, with a stone, or you can pluck it softly, handle it gently.  In the end, the mango will be eaten, anyway!”

– Nalini Jameela, The Autobiography of a Sex Worker, 20071

In June 1936, a group of women invited B.R. Ambedkar2 to a meeting in the district of Kamathipura in Mumbai. Ambedkar, in the midst of a busy period3 of meetings and conferences that drew audiences in the tens of thousands, often spoke of the promise of women’s upliftment, so the invitation was not in itself surprising.  But Kamathipura —today the scene of rapid gentrification, once home to some 10,000 sex workers4 in one of the largest red-light districts in India — was an unlikely stop.

Formed in the shadow of British imperial expansion, Kamathipura remains today the paradigmatic backdrop for grimly hopeful Nicholas Kristof columns, stock scenes of seedy characters in Bollywood movies, and media exposés.  In the nineteenth century, Kamathipura was a place of recreation for soldiers, sailors, and migrant workers drawn to colonial Bombay by the burgeoning cotton trade.5 The sexual economy of Kamathipura, and the women and families who lived there, lay at the tangled heart of colonial anxieties about race and sex, disease and moral degradation, and, later, formed the bleak counterpoint to nationalist visions of the modern Indian woman.6

Many of the women attending the meeting were Dalits.7 Many were also part of hereditary systems of religious dedication to temple deities often linked to prostitution,8 such as devadasi, murali and jogti practices, which involve largely Dalit and lower-caste women.9 The women said they wanted to join Ambedkar’s movement for Dalit conversion to Buddhism. They also hoped he would exercise his clout to help them protest police brutality.  But Ambedkar’s speech, by most accounts, surprised the women with the vehemence of his dismissal.  He informed the women that they were “a shame to the community” and must leave behind their “disgusting profession.”10 The sociologist Gail Omvedt writes, “there was an uproar, and the women poured into the streets, cursing and yelling…”11

Two aspects of this incident are worth particular note.  One is the collective mobilization of prostitutes in India against police brutality more than forty years before the Scarlot Harlot would originate the term “sex work” in San Francisco to challenge the stigmatization of sex work,12 and organized sex workers’ movements would gain momentum around the world.13 Despite the ubiquitous characterization of sex workers in the “Third World” as silent victims in the accounts of anti-trafficking advocates,14 sex workers in the red-light areas, temples, and other public spaces in India have long protested abuse in sporadic and sometimes more systematic ways.15 Second are the terms on which this mobilization erupted.  The devadasis, muralis, and jogtis of Kamathipura, rather than highlighting their unique forms of marginalization, instead sought to position themselves alongside other Dalits, and align the problem of police brutality with other Dalit concerns.

Even as the women endeavored to undo their exceptionalization, however, Ambedkar imposed on it a caste-inflected moral critique.  It is no secret that Ambedkar’s notion of feminine upliftment had its roots in ideals of upper-caste femininity, despite his sophisticated understanding of the ways in which Dalit women’s degradation and sexual exploitation underpinned caste oppression.  In 1927, for example, he exhorted Dalit women to “wear your sari in the way that upper-caste women wear their saris,’”16 and “’pay attention to cleanliness.”17 Ambedkar’s critique of prostitution built on these classed moral divisions: “You will ask me how you are to make your living.  There are hundreds of ways of doing it… You must marry and settle down to normal domestic life as women of other classes do…”18 Here, then, was the specter of the other prototypical institution of social reproduction: the women of Kamathipura could choose to be whores, or they could choose to be wives.19

This polarized opposition between housework and prostitution—the division Ambedkar reinforced—is still underexplored in Marxist feminist thinking on reproduction. Prabha Kotiswaran argues that the (mostly European) debates on domestic work in the 1970s “lacked a theory of sex”20—they established prostitution as part of gendered circuits of reproduction, but had little to say on its relationship to (or difference from) housework.  Prostitution, at best, was vaguely folded into other forms of housework—all marriages were also relationships of prostitution, or else prostitution filled the sexual deficits within marriage—but not analyzed as a form of labor with analytically distinct features.  Silvia Federici, for example, analyzes sex workers and housewives as theoretically equivalent: “sex is work”21 for all women, who are “in a servant relation to the entire male world,”22 and thus “prostitution underlines every sexual encounter.”23 The real target of Wages for (or against) Housework, then, is the gendering of reproduction in general.  Because “the attributes of femininity are in fact work functions,”24 the idea of gendered difference naturalizes women’s role as reproducers.  Federici attributes this naturalization to the lack of wage; thus, the aim of Wages for Housework is not to make reproduction obsolete, at least in the short term, but rather to break the tie between femininity and reproductive labor.  

Aside from the symbolic prostitution of reproductive relationships—a common theme in feminist writings—this conclusion leads to some practical ambiguities in analyzing actually existing sex work.  If it is wages for housework that denaturalize reproduction, then why is sex work, a paid activity, still rendered invisible within the relations of production, and largely (though certainly not exclusively) performed by women?  Why is sex work criminalized in most of the world, while marriage is generally rewarded?  What would wages for housework mean for sex work—would housewives and sex workers now become formally equivalent?  What is the relationship between housework and paid domestic work?  What really separates sex workers and housewives—or are they theoretically interchangeable?25

Leopoldina Fortunati’s The Arcane of Reproduction offers some hints toward answering these questions.26 In emphasizing the relationships of each set of reproductive workers—housewives and sex workers—to the male worker as a way of proving that they produce surplus value, Fortunati leaves less room for a discussion of types of reproductive workers to each other, but she does offer a few points.  Initially, she describes prostitution as a corollary to housework—it makes up the deficits in domestic sexuality.27 Though prostitution bears some features that resemble wage labor—it is paid for with money—it is still essentially a non-waged but indirectly waged relationship, connected to circuits of production through the male laborer, and with fewer opportunities for bargaining over or exiting a contract than are available to him.  Later, Fortunati notes the overlaps between these categories: factory-working women can be both mothers and prostitutes, and factories can become centers of prostitution.  Thus, capital “has never hesitated to exploit women as prostitute, houseworker and production worker as and when it required, and often as all three simultaneously.”28 Finally, Fortunati notes that the complementarity of prostitution and housework is central to the sustenance of the family as an institution: “The wave of repression of prostitutes is in reality capital’s attempt to re-establish the complementary aspects of the exchange, and to once more place prostitution work in a secondary position to housework in terms of the male worker’s quantitative consumption of it.”29 The fact that “the division in the female job-market between the prostitute and the non-prostitute is thus blurring”30 poses a threat to capitalist relations, because it is the separation of prostitution and housework that makes the anchoring of social reproduction to female laborers in the household possible.

Fortunati is arguing that just as the role of reproductive labor within circuits of production is obscured, the role of prostitution in providing the ideological basis for the family is obscured, too.  Within capitalism, there is no loving marriage without the specter of the degraded, morally degenerate relationship between the sex worker and her client.31 Even if the two groups are more similar than different—both because the groups may actually overlap, and because they both involve sexual, emotional, and intimate reproduction—it is part of the mystification of reproduction to maintain their distinction.  Fortunati concludes that “it is in capital’s interest to keep the female houseworkers separate, reducing their possibilities to organize amongst themselves,”32 and thus “the only thing that will bring freedom from prostitution work is the common struggle of all women united in struggle against the non-directly-waged work-relation.”33 Fortunati’s points here offer an opening to well-developed feminist insights on the production of femininity—not just femininity as the difference between women and men, reproducers and producers, but the production of distinct forms of femininity that, in complementing and opposing one another, sustain women’s subordination within the relations of production.  The exceptionalization of one form of reproductive labor, in this account, sustains the naturalization of the other.  

Returning to Kamathipura suggests the spatial dimensions of this exceptionalization.  As the “penultimate, iconic Indian red-light district,” the ethnographer Svati Shah writes, Kamathipura has been “spectacularized” through multiple visualizations and retellings.34 These layers of spatial differentiation, Shah argues, mark sex work as visibly marginal, distinct from the circuits of migrant labor and respectable family relations that define the rest of the city, rather than fundamentally linked to them. This inscription of Kamathipura as a permanently marginal space has been central in the management of moral panic and the fear of contagious disease35, and now in undergirding Mumbai’s aspirations to status as a world-class city.  Mumbai certainly does not represent the archetypal economy Federici and Fortunati analyze, built around nuclear families and formal wage labor in mirrored productive circuits.  In India, employment in the formal economy is a relative rarity: 93% of the labor force is informal, or not formally protected.36 Yet the resonances with Fortunati’s reflections are nevertheless clear: sex work in India, as elsewhere, is closely intertwined with the factory work, construction work, domestic work, and other informal sector work that sustain the formal economy even as it is rendered morally exceptional.37 A survey of 3000 Indian women in sex work in 14 Indian states found that 61% had experience of other labor markets, and 21% continued to have “dual work identities.”38  Not to mention that the majority of sex workers in many state-level surveys in India are married and perform reproductive labor at home.

The separation of sex workers from other workers, reproductive and productive, is not only a moral one; it is enacted through the law.  Engels wrote in 1878 that marriage was merely “the legally recognized form, the official cloak of prostitution”39; a report from the sex worker collective Veshya Anyay Mukshi Parishad (VAMP) argues that “the uncertain legal status attached to [sex workers’] work and identity…‘invisibilises’ them as citizens.”40 The laws governing sex work in India, the Indian Penal Code and the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, are largely colonial holdovers that simultaneously acknowledge the practice of sex work—by not, for example, criminalizing the exchange of sex for money itself—and restrict its practice by criminalizing sex-work-related activities like soliciting in public places and living off the earnings of a prostitute.41 Though these ambiguities aim to prevent abuses of sex workers by pimps and brokers, in practice they expand the possibilities for police abuse, while they reinscribe sex work’s exceptional status.

Apart from the persistent voices of anti-trafficking abolitionists who argue that all prostitution is sexual violence, sex workers’ groups in India have made highly varied activist claims.42 These differences reflect diversity in forms and sites of sex work, as well as distinct regional political formations and distinct analyses of the nature of sex work. Of an estimated 868,000 sex workers in India,43 those in some large cities with histories of direct colonial rule, such as Kolkata, Mumbai, and Delhi, have major red-light districts in which sex work appears spatially distinct from other labor markets, while others, like Bangalore and Chennai, have more dispersed sex work practices that center in scattered small-scale brothels or public places like parks, bus stands, train stations, or marketplaces.  Traditional systems of prostitution, such as the devadasi tradition, though formally illegal, exist alongside other forms of sexual exchange not linked to religious practice.  In Kolkata, with its history of left activism and trade unionism, sex workers readily positioned themselves as women workers; in other parts of India, the language of gender justice, human rights or women’s empowerment emerged more easily among sex worker activists.  Some groups, like those in Kolkata and in Kerala, have argued that sex work is a pleasurable and appealing occupation, while others avoid this characterization and emphasize its similarities with other precarious and often abusive occupations, and most some combination of the two.  A common thread, however, is the effort to render sex work unexceptional—a thread that runs back from Indian devadasi reformers in the early twentieth century, who positioned themselves within a glorious Hindu religious tradition and denounced “immoral” sexuality,44 to contemporary sex worker activists like Nalini Jameela, who, when describing her first encounter with sex work in her autobiography, calls it “using the woman the way the husband does.”45  

Whether or not these accounts see sex work as preferable or desirable work, then, they nevertheless counter the obscuring of its relationship to marriage, other forms of labor, or religious practice.  The manifesto produced at the First National Conference of Sex Workers in India, convened in 1997 in Kolkata by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, argues,

Women are pitted against each other as wife against the prostitute, against the chaste and the immoral — both represented as fighting over the attention and lust of men. A chaste wife is granted no sexuality, only a de-sexed motherhood and domesticity. At the other end of the spectrum is the “fallen” woman — a sex machine, unfettered by any domestic inclination or “feminine” emotion… In all cases female sexuality is controlled and shaped by patriarchy to reproduce the existing political economy of sexuality and safeguard the interest of men.46

While some critique the manifesto as “liberal feminist,”47 it provides a basis for linking sex work to the more generalized condition of feminine reproductive laborers—if not, as Marx called it, a “specific expression of the general prostitution of the laborer.” It builds on a long feminist tradition of analyzing the specter of sex work as a mode of disciplining all women’s sexuality, but links it to the actual conditions of work of actual sex workers.  The Karnataka Sex Workers Union argues that “we are nothing less or more than any other worker.”48  

The discomfort Indian sex workers have faced in seeking alliances with feminist, labor, and Dalit activists largely stem from the exceptionalization of sex work in relation to other forms of gendered reproductive labor.  Some feminists object to sex work out of hand and argue for its abolition; others, like Rajeshwari Sunder Rajan, argue for “abolishing the system while empowering the practice.”49 India’s organized labor movement has only recently begun to engage with feminized informal labor, let alone the politics of sex work.  Further objections to sex work come from Dalit activists and scholars who, following Ambedkar’s criticisms, note that sex work is often performed by Dalit women for the sexual pleasure of upper-caste men; thus sex workers are “servants of the state and upper caste men,”50 and sex work simply another instantiation of caste oppression.  In Dalit movements, traditions like the devadasi tradition become symbolic limit cases of the oppression of Dalit women.51

Theories of reproductive labor like Fortunati’s—or the more recent work on “intimate labors”52 —offer a way out of these moral negotiations about the “right” or “wrong” of sex work or prostitution as an institution isolated from the political economy of housework and reproductive labor. Instead, they take the exploitative nature of sex work as given without marking it as a target of unique criminal restrictions or social stigma.  Exchanging sex work for another form of work—through the respectability of marriage, or the dignity of wage labor, or both—does not change the underlying conditions of exploitation: as Federici writes, “work in a capitalist system is exploitation and there is no pleasure, pride, or creativity in being exploited.”53 In this vein, the way out for sex work activism is not to reinforce the separation of sex workers and careworkers, but to expose the mechanisms by which this separation is reproduced, and redirect attention to the underlying conditions of exploitation and poverty.

Read in this light, the narratives of failed or absent husbands I have heard from many sex workers in interviews in Karnataka become more than a longing for male protection.  They point to the failure of marriage and the licit economy to provide the promised means for basic survival. Sex work becomes a necessary extension of marriage—it allows women to feed themselves and their children, while maintaining the illusion that “respectable” jobs and “respectable” marriages will suffice.  Samina (name changed), a sex worker in Karnataka, explains:

I was scared when I was a girl.  My husband was like God.  I shouldn’t say anything.   I thought if I died, I should die in his lap… I shouldn’t lift my eyes up and look at anyone other than him.  That’s how I thought about it.  Now, my mind has blossomed, like a lotus flower. Lotuses grow in the swamp, right?  Even though we’re in a swamp, just like lotus flowers, we’ve made people think well of us… [they see that] these women are good… their husbands don’t earn… Only if you know the story do you know how things are.54

Samina’s declaration of “how things are” echoes in the work of sex worker groups in India who seek to counter their exceptionalization by articulating relationships to other segments of workers and poor women.  In Kolkata, the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) initially positioned sex work as professional service labor or entertainment labor, and has more recently argued for their similarities to manual workers as part of the New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI). Sex workers at the Karnataka Sex Workers’ Union (KSWU) have emphasized their similarities to informal workers, like wastepickers, as well as their similarities to working-class sexual and gender minorities.55 The Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP) in Sangli, Maharashtra, drawing on its links to feminist movements across India, decided against characterizing itself as a union and instead organizes as a sex worker collective.  Ashodaya Samithi in Mysore, India positions itself as a community-based organization that provides sex workers with services as well as advocating for sex workers’ human rights.  Several other collectives of sex workers in India see sex work as the highly constrained (but nevertheless legitimate) choice of women in poverty who identify as mothers and wives first, and who must also be provided with other economic options, such as microcredit and savings.

While these variations reflect a range of political worldviews, institutional affiliations, donor relationships, and alliances, they share a unifying insight: that sex work is a specific configuration of a general condition, and that sex workers’ struggles and aspirations align with those of other reproductive laborers.  To isolate sex work from the web of political economic relations in which it takes place is to deny the ways in which poor women and men seek economic survival, intimacy, sex, and love, in often brutal circumstances.

  1. Nalini Jameela, The Autobiography of a Sex Worker, trans. J. Devika (New Delhi: Westland, 2007), 174–5. 

  2. Ambedkar was a Dalit leader, scholar, and politician, and framer of the Indian constitution. 

  3. Gail Omvedt, Ambedkar: Towards an Enlightened India (New Delhi: Penguin, 2004), 62. 

  4. Svati Shah, “Producing The Spectacle of Kamathipura: The Politics of Red Light Visibility in Mumbai,” Cultural Dynamics 18, no. 3 (2006): 275. 

  5. Ashwini Tambe, “The Elusive Ingénue: A Transnational Feminist Analysis of European Prostitution in Colonial Bombay,” Gender & Society 19, no. 2 (2005): 163. 

  6. Partha Chatterjee, “Colonialism, Nationalism, and Colonialized Women: The Contest in India,” American Ethnologist 16, no. 4 (1989): 627; Priyadarshini Vijaisri, “Contending Identities: Sacred Prostitution and Reform in Colonial South India,” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 28, no. 3 (2005): 387–411. 

  7. Dalit, meaning “oppressed” or “crushed,” refers to those groups considered “untouchable” within the Hindu caste system. 

  8. I use the term “prostitute” only where the term “sex worker” would be anachronistic. 

  9. Davesh Soneji, Unfinished Gestures: Devadasis, Memory, and Modernity in South India (University of Chicago Press, 2011); Lucinda Ramberg, Given to the Goddess: South Indian Devadasis and the Sexuality of Religion (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014). 

  10. Anupama Rao, The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2009), 66. 

  11. Omvedt, Ambedkar, 64. 

  12. Carol Leigh, “Inventing Sex Work,” in Whores and Other Feminists, ed. Jill Nagle (New York: Routledge, 1997), 223–31. 

  13. Kamala Kempadoo and Jo Doezema, Global Sex Workers: Rights, Resistance, and Redefinition (New York, NY: Routledge, 1998). 

  14. see Jo Doezema, “Ouch!: Western Feminists’ ‘Wounded Attachment’ to the ‘Third World Prostitute,’” Feminist Review 67 (2001): 16–38; Gretchen Soderlund, “Running from the Rescuers: New US Crusades against Sex Trafficking and the Rhetoric of Abolition,” NWSA Journal 17, no. 3 (2005): 64–87; Ronald Weitzer, “The Social Construction of Sex Trafficking: Ideology and Institutionalization of a Moral Crusade,” Politics & Society 35, no. 3 (2007): 447–75; Laura María Agustín, Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry (New York: Zed Books, 2007); Elizabeth Bernstein, “Carceral Politics as Gender Justice? The ‘Traffic in Women’ and Neoliberal Circuits of Crime, Sex, and Rights,” Theory and Society 41, no. 3 (2012): 233–59; Elena Shih, “The Anti-Trafficking Rehabilitation Complex,” Contexts 13, no. 1 (2014) for critiques of this victim narrative. 

  15. A common strategy of anti-trafficking advocates in discounting sex worker activists in Europe and North America has been to argue that their sex-radical politics of sex workers is irrelevant to the lives of Third World women, though others argue that prostitution is sexual violence by definition (see Andrea Dworkin, “Prostitution and Male Supremacy,” Michigan Journal of Gender & Law 1 (1993): 1–12; Sheila Jeffreys, The Idea of Prostitution (Spinifex Press, 1997); Catharine MacKinnon, “Trafficking, Prostitution, and Inequality,” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 46 (2011): 271–309.) 

  16. Thanks to Lucinda Ramberg for this reference. 

  17. Rao, The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India, 67. 

  18. Prabha Kotiswaran, “Wives and Whores: Prospects for a Feminist Theory of Redistribution,” in Sexuality and the Law: Feminist Engagements, ed. Vanessa Munro and Carl Stychin (London: Routledge-Cavendish, 2007). 

  19. FPrabha Kotiswaran, “Wives and Whores: Prospects for a Feminist Theory of Redistribution,” in Sexuality and the Law: Feminist Engagements, ed. Vanessa Munro and Carl Stychin (London: Routledge-Cavendish, 2007). 

  20. Prabha Kotiswaran, Dangerous Sex, Invisible Labor: Sex Work and the Law in India (Princeton University Press, 2011), 59. 

  21. Silvia Federici, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2012), 24. 

  22. Ibid., 18. 

  23. Ibid., 25. 

  24. Ibid., 8. 

  25. Kotiswaran (2007) looks to the feminist literature on sex work to outline distinct strands in relation to this question: an “overlap approach” (all housewives are sex workers and vice versa, either functionally or figuratively), a “continuum approach (sex work and marriage occupy two ends of a continuum) or the “bargaining approach” (sex workers’ interests conflict with those of housewives). 

  26. Leopoldina Fortunati, The Arcane of Reproduction: Housework, Prostitution, Labor and Capital, ed. Jim Fleming, trans. Hillary Creek (New York: Autonomedia, 1995). The book overall aims to establish the fact that reproductive labor produces value—it is, Fortunati insists, “productive”—and thus must be of interest to any theory of revolution. Indeed, Fortunati argues, a key effect of capitalist relations is the obscuring of the value produced by reproductive labor, such that what occurs in the home or the brothel appears to be outside the relations of production, but yet forms a necessary circuit in the productive process. 

  27. Fortunati, The Arcane of Reproduction: Housework, Prostitution, Labor and Capital, 17. 

  28. Ibid., 41. 

  29. Ibid., 45. 

  30. Ibid., 44. 

  31. Margaret A. Baldwin, “Split at the Root: Prostitution and Feminist Discourses of Law Reform,” Yale Journal of Law & Feminism 5 (1992): 47; Anne McClintock, “Sex Work and Sex Workers: Introduction,” Social Text 37 (1993): 1–10; Gail Pheterson, “The Whore Stigma: Female Dishonor and Male Unworthiness,” Social Text 37 (1993): 39–64. 

  32. Fortunati, The Arcane of Reproduction: Housework, Prostitution, Labor and Capital, 114. 

  33. Ibid 

  34. Svati Shah, Street Corner Secrets: Sex, Work, and Migration in the City of Mumbai (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 153–4; see also Shah, “Producing The Spectacle of Kamathipura: The Politics of Red Light Visibility in Mumbai.” 

  35. See also Ashwini Tambe, Codes of Misconduct: Regulating Prostitution in Late Colonial Bombay (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009). 

  36. Rina Agarwala, Informal Labor, Formal Politics, and Dignified Discontent in India (Cambridge University Press, 2013), 1. 

  37. This is an insight Kotiswaran (2011) relates to what she calls “dependency feminism,” which broadly emphasizes the role of informal, feminized “Third World” labor in sustaining capitalism. 

  38. Rohini Sahni and V. Kalyan Shankar, “Sex Work and Its Linkages with Informal Labour Markets in India: Findings from the First Pan-India Survey of Female Sex Workers,” 2013, 22, http://opendocs.ids.ac.uk/opendocs/handle/123456789/2369. 

  39. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Marx-Engels Reader, Robert Tucker, Ed. Second Edition (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 1978), 686. 

  40. http://www.sangram.org/resources/status-of-women-in-sex-work-in-india-submission-to-CEDAW-committee.pdf 

  41. Ashwini Tambe, Codes of Misconduct: Regulating Prostitution in Late Colonial Bombay (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009); Prabha Kotiswaran, Dangerous Sex, Invisible Labor: Sex Work and the Law in India (Princeton University Press, 2011). 

  42. Not to mention feminist scholarly debate, e.g. Jean D’Cunha, “Prostitution Laws: Ideological Dimensions and Enforcement Practices,” Economic and Political Weekly 27, no. 17 (1992): WS34–44; Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, “The Prostitution Question(s): Female Agency, Sexuality, and Work,” in The Scandal of the State: Women, Law, and Citizenship in Postcolonial India (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 117–46; Annie George, U. Vindhya, and Sawmya Ray, “Sex Trafficking and Sex Work: Definitions, Debates and dynamics—A Review of Literature,” Economic and Political Weekly 45, no. 17 (2010): 24–30; Apoorva Kaiwar and Sujata Gothoskar, “Who Says We Do Not Work?,” Economic and Political Weekly 49, no. 46 (November 14, 2014): 54–61. 

  43. NACO, Annual Report 2011-12 (New Delhi: National AIDS Control Organization, Department of AIDS Control, & Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 2012), 8. 

  44. Davesh Soneji, “Śiva’s Courtesans: Religion, Rhetoric, and Self-Representation in Early Twentieth-Century Writing by Devadāsīs,” International Journal of Hindu Studies 14, no. 1 (2010): 31–70. 

  45. Nalini Jameela, The Autobiography of a Sex Worker, trans. J. Devika (New Delhi: Westland, 2007). 

  46. http://www.nswp.org/sites/nswp.org/files/Sex%20Workers%20Manifesto%20-%20Meeting%20in%20India.pdf 

  47. Swati Ghosh, “Elusive Choice and Agency: A Feminist Re-Reading of the Sex Workers’ Manifesto,” in Prostitution and Beyond: An Analysis of Sex Workers in India, by Rohini Sahni and V. Kalyan Shankar (New Delhi: Sage, 2008). 

  48. Prabha Kotiswaran, ed., Sex Work, Issues in Contemporary Indian Feminism 7 (New Delhi: Women Unlimited, 2011), 266. 

  49. Sunder Rajan, “The Prostitution Question(s): Female Agency, Sexuality, and Work,” 145. 

  50. Gail Omvedt, “Towards a Theory of ‘Brahmanic Patriarchy,’” Economic & Political Weekly 35, no. 4 (2000): 188. 

  51. Uma Chakravarti, Gendering Caste: Through a Feminist Lens (Calcutta: Stree, 2003), 89. 

  52. Eileen Boris and Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, eds., Intimate Labors: Cultures, Technologies, and the Politics of Care (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010). 

  53. Silvia Federici, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2012), 59. 

  54. Interview with the author, 2012. 

  55. See Ashwini Sukthankar, “Queering Approaches to Sex, Gender, and Labor in India: Examining Paths to Sex Worker Unionism,” in South Asian Feminisms, ed. Ania Loomba and Ritty A. Lukose (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), 306–32 for a comparison of these two approaches. 

Author of the article

is a PhD candidate at UC Berkeley studying the sociology of gender, sexuality, development, transnational politics, labor, and medicine.