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Kanjar subculture: socialisation for sex work amongst traditional entertainers in India

Published in Taylor & Francis
Volume: 23
Issue: 2
Pages: 273 - 283

Sex work is perceived as an undesirable activity in India. It is widely believed that sex workers are either the victims of trafficking or have taken up sex work out of compulsion. Furthermore, it is often assumed that people who pursue sex work live in brothels or solicit customers outside their homes. Drawing on findings from an ethnographic study of the Kanjar community of northern India, this paper argues to the contrary. Veering away from accounts of individual women as victims, this paper focuses on dhandha (sex work) as a ‘legitimate’ community practice. For the Kanjars, sex work is a traditional occupation with a long complex history and a distinct subculture embedded in its economic structure. For those involved, the family economy is based on the labour and earnings of unmarried women who earn income as dhandhewalis (sex workers). Sex work may not be an option that Kanjars choose, but it is certainly a practice that they are neither ashamed of, nor apologetic about. Their positive, if not defiant, attitude can be understood in the context of the specific subculture of the Kanjars. The term ‘subculture’ as used here being specific to the community and its traditions, as distinct from dominant mainstream Indian culture.

About the journal
JournalCulture, health & sexuality
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Open AccessYes