Born into Brothels reconsidered

Svati Shah critically looks at some issues in and around last years Oscar winner for Best Documentary, Born into Brothels.

“[T]he prospect of portraying Sonagachi [in Calcutta] as a red light district with no active non-governmental organizations (NGOs), no history of activism regarding HIV/AIDS and trafficking, and no relationship with the local authorities is incredible. While not every sex worker in the area has been part of the success stories of local organizing, Sonagachi, in particular, has earned world renown through organizations like the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC). The DMSC has been working in Sonagachi for more than a decade, and is seen as a model for improving health status and working conditions among sex workers. The HIV infection rate among sex workers in Calcutta is around 5%, which is especially significant in comparison with other red light areas in India. Other organizations working in the district, including Sanlaap, assisted the filmmakers in their project. However, Sanlaap workers were never identified clearly, and were instead portrayed as interpreters, school administrators, and were generally seen as part of the background against the ‘real’ story of the filmmakers mounting their rescue. The audience’s lasting impression is that, without Briski and Kaufmann, the people living in this district are without hope and options.”