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Activism, Sex Work, and Womanhood in North India

Hamm, Megan (2012) Activism, Sex Work, and Womanhood in North India. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation is an ethnography of a sex worker activist organization in North India. The NGO Guria Swayam Sevi Sansthan has been working to end brothel-based prostitution in Shivdaspur, a small red light area on the outskirts of Varanasi, since 1993. In the course of their 19-year interaction with the red light area, they have used a variety of tactics, ranging from non-violent protest of the exploitation of sex workers in Shivdaspur, to education programs, to “raid-and-rescue” tactics, settling on the latter tactic to further their cause. This dissertation describes both the NGO’s activism and its interaction with Shivdaspur, focusing on the ways in which the middle-class founders of the organization conceptualize the women they seek to aid. I argue that Guria¬-affiliated activists, and their middle-class supporters, view those who live and work in Shivdaspur through the lens of their own values and priorities, including a hard-lined focus on the implementation of human rights, respect for women, the importance of civil society, and the desirability of a functional, non-corrupt State. These values lead directly to the conceptualization of sex workers as living lives outside the boundaries of what is considered acceptable for women, and for human beings more generally, and ironically to activism that excludes sex workers as well as pimps and brothel keepers. Individual chapters of the dissertation describe various forms of such exclusion: “raid-and-rescue” activist tactics that draw on and contribute to an understanding of sex workers as bare life, the disavowal of sex workers’ marriages, the exclusion of Shivdaspuri sex workers from an NGO-sponsored concert meant to showcase the artistic talents of sex workers and other marginalized communities, and the silence and disbelief that surrounds sex workers’ narratives of their lives and working conditions.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Hamm, Meganmehst52@pitt.eduMEHST52
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairAlter, Josephjsalter@pitt.eduJSALTER
Committee MemberConstable, Nicoleconstabl@pitt.eduCONSTABL
Committee MemberLukacs, Gabriellalukacs+@pitt.eduLUKACS
Committee MemberWeintraub, Andrewanwein@pitt.eduANWEIN
Date: 26 September 2012
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 7 May 2012
Approval Date: 26 September 2012
Submission Date: 6 August 2012
Access Restriction: 3 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 3 years.
Number of Pages: 360
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Anthropology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Sex Work, Activism, North India, NGOs
Date Deposited: 27 Sep 2012 01:50
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:01


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