CoEP to get sex workers in step with festival times

Sep 23, 2011, 08:55 IST | Vikek Sabnis

Sex workers to be among 5,000 invitees to Aarya Raas, a dandiya programme organised during Navratri by students of engineering college

Sex workers to be among 5,000 invitees to Aarya Raas, a dandiya programme organised during Navratri by students of engineering college

If the students of College of Engineering Pune (CoEP) have their way, then there will be some unusual guests this year for their Navratri celebrations. For their Aarya Raas, an ethno carnival, they are trying to get women from the most marginalised sections of society to participate in their event. Among the 5,000 invitees for CoEP's nine nights of dandiya raas and garba will be sex workers and those suffering from fatal diseases.

Just dance: The nine-day dandiya event at the College of Engineering
Pune shall kick start on September 28 and end by October 6.
Representation pic

The nine-day event shall kick start on September 28 and end by October 6. The first four days shall be reserved for 600 students, including boys and girls from CoEP. The remaining days shall be open free of cost for girls and women from only in and around the city.

"Why not include everyone be they physically challenged or sex workers? We are calling the most stigmatised classes in the society like sex workers and women afflicted with serious diseases. Does these women not have a right to dance with other women?" asked Madhuri Sahastrabuddhe, the chief organiser of the Aarya Raas programme. "Aarya Raas is for everybody in the society, and we are doing it for Goddess Durga. Class barriers do not exist for her. Everybody is equal before the Goddess."

She said the idea came to the organisers after they decided to invite Dr Girish Kulkarni, president, Snehalaya, who is into many social activities, including running a radio station for sex workers at Ahmednagar. The radio was inaugurated by anti-graft crusader Anna Hazare recently, who was the first to address the sex workers in Ahmednagar district. "We have decided to follow the same path. When Hazare himself can go out of his way and do something for these most suppressed class in the society, why not we?" asked Sahastrabuddhe.
She said the idea was yet to materialise, as they were still discussing it with Kulkarni and his Snehalaya team. "We are inviting the sex workers for our programme, but are not sure if they will attend this big gathering," she said.

"CoEP has been organising the Aarya Raas event since 2007, but it was on a smaller scale and at the college level. This year the entire event has been planned and organised by 60 female students and 15 women faculty members of the college," said Padmaja Kulkarni, final-year student, CoEP. "The festival is a social commitment. We are trying to provide a stall for the visually impaired so they can sell their products. We are also trying to get sponsors for the economically backward girls for their education."

Professor Anjali Dharme, electrical department, CoEP, said: "We have many social programmes, including a free-medical check up for participants and stalls for the handicapped." Komal Khandelwal, another student from CoEP who is in the organising committee, said, "Everything is being organised by the girls and women from CoEP, and we have not taken help from any outside professional organisation. We have been given training in management and leadership skills to organise such events."

Girish Kulkarni, president, Snehalaya, Ahmednagar, welcomed the idea of including the marginalised class of women in the society. "Pune is a place of progressive movement, and I am happy that the CoEP is following the same path of social reforms," he said. "We shall certainly try to make the idea feasible."

Approximate number of Navratri events in the city

Fact file
Every year, sex workers and eunuchs participate in Ganeshotsav and Navratri celebrations organised by the Vaibhav Mitra Mandal in Budhwar Peth

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