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    Leaving it to Professionals: Indian Prostitutes Run a Lucrative Credit Union

    © AFP 2017/ Prakash SINGH
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    The unconventional bank services the growing demand for dependable financial services and low-interest loans among practitioners of the world's oldest profession in India.

    Organized in 1995 by a group of Indian women who were able to pool their humble savings, Usha Multipurpose Cooperative Society has become a major financial institute across West Bengal, with an annual turnover of some 300 million rupees.

    The key to its staggering success is the bank's peculiar client base: it primarily services Indian sex workers. By addressing the needs of this untapped market, it was able to spread throughout the state, and now caters to approximately 31,000 account holders.

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    The Society is itself run by former sex workers, who decided to establish the bank to combat the numerous challenges that they faced when it came to keeping the money earned.

    Speaking to The Guardian, sex worker Rita Roy revealed that escorts in India often have to deal with criminals, unfair brothels, corrupt law enforcement officials, and even their own family members, who try to dispossess them of their cash through extortion or theft.

    In turn, this drives the sex workers to approach brutal loan sharks, who often charge up to 300% in interest per year and abuse vulnerable women if they fail to pay on time.

    "When I couldn't repay it, the money lender posted two men outside the kotha [brothel] to harass me every time I went out to shop," Roy said.

    Usha's Chief Adviser Smarajit Jana also highlighted the difficult position the women find themselves in, when they try to manage their finances.

    "They are at the mercy of the madams, who take 50% of their earnings. What's left is at the mercy of goons and policemen, who extort money," Jana told The Guardian.

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    The bank's popularity comes from the sex workers' desire to assert "control over their finances" and secure stable financial environment, as the Society offers favorable savings schemes and low-interest rates.

    The fact that Usha is run by former escorts greatly enhances client-bank relationships, as the sex workers trust the Society's advisors and tend to almost always repay their loans.

    "I trust Usha because sex workers run it — they take all the decisions," Manju Dutt said, according to The Guardian.

    Membership in the Society has another value for women, as it offers financial advice and helps them obtain official IDs, rent accommodation and receive welfare. 

    The Society now operates under the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, an NGO that seeks to offer support and counsel to sex workers in India.

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    Tags:
    loan sharks, ngo, Sex Workers, crime, bank, protection, West Bengal, India
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