The high court on Thursday ordered Burtolla police station to allow six organisations of sex workers to organise a Durga puja by partially blocking a road in Sonagachhi.
“We cannot deny them (sex workers) their fundamental right to perform religious programmes,” the division bench of Justice Ashim Kumar Banerjee and Justice Mrinal Kanti Chowdhury said.
The court also appointed three advocates — Chandreyee Alam, Debjani Sengupta and Sushmita Saha Roy — as special officers to ensure the sex workers organise the puja together and peacefully.
“The puja will be performed on the office premises of Durbar Mahila Samity (an organisation of sex workers) on Abinash Kabiraj Road. The organisers will be allowed to cover an area of the road adjacent to the office,” the bench ruled.
While the idols will be set up in the Samity’s office, a 8ftx15ft pandal can be erected on the road to seat guests.
The special officers will ensure that representatives of all six orgnisations are included in the puja committee.
“The officer-in-charge of Burtolla police station will see to it that puja meetings are held peacefully and law and order is maintained on puja days,” the bench said in its order.
The sex workers hailed the decision. “This is the first time in the country that sex workers are allowed to hold Durga puja. We thank Calcutta High Court,” said Sandhya Gayen, a former president of the Samity.
The bench also praised Calcutta police’s role in manging crowds on festive days.
The Samity had moved the high court seeking an order to Burtolla police to allow the organisation to organise Durga puja at the crossing of Abinash Kabiraj Road and Masjidbari Lane.
Justice Sanjib Banerjee, who heard the petition, ordered the police to submit the guidelines they follow while allowing road-hog pujas. The state moved an appeal before the division bench.
Government pleader Ashok Banerjee submitted: “Five other groups of sex workers have also applied for permission to hold the puja on roads. There cannot be any discrimination.”
The bench in its order observed: “There should be one puja where every faction will take part.”