We Are Foot Soldiers

Directors: Debolina Dutta and Oishik Sircar
Producer & Commissioning Editor – Rajiv Mehrotra
26 minutes, 2011, Kolkata, India
(See http://sexworkerfest.com/footsoldiers/)

In 2005, children of sex workers in Kolkata’s Sonagachi red light district came together to form their own organisation, drawing inspiration from the work that their mothers have been doing to demand their right to sex work as work. The Film journeys through the lives of six Amra Padatik members whose entangled realities do not paint a picture of helplessness, but of political assertiveness and social consciousness. Stereotypical images of their suffering are something that many of them identify with, yet, far from despair and fear, in the face of adversity, their responses are far more complex, hopeful and strong.

What does sex work have to do with child rights? In this mid-length documentary young activists of Amra Padatik (literally translates from the Bengali as “We are foot soldiers”), an organization formed by the children of sex workers in India, relate the challenges, the sacrifices and the gifts of being children of sex workers in Kolkata’s Sonogachi red light district.

Director’s Note:
We are not trained filmmakers. We are activist lawyers and have been associated with Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee(DMSC) for over a decade. In 2007 we received a fellowship to write a paper documenting the collectivization of Amra Padatik (AP), the organization of children of sex workers formed under the aegis of DMSC. But at one of our discussions during this time, the young activists of AP told us that no one (especially within their community) would ever read our paper which was going to be written in English. So we were urged to do something more useful with the research that will have a wider use and reach, especially within their community. It was also around this time that ‘Born into Brothels’ had won the Oscar and Amra Padatik members were furious at the fact that the film did not acknowledge the existence of the vibrant sex workers movement in Kolkata and portrayed their mothers as irresponsible and incompetent parents. The children drew inspiration from the work that their mothers have been doing to demand their right to sex work as work. Stereotypical images of their suffering are something that many of them identify with, yet, far from despair and fear, in the face of adversity, their responses are far more complex, hopeful and strong.

Other screenings:
Vibgyor Film Festival Kerala
Sex Work Film Fest, Hamburg, Germany
Jeevika South Asia Livelihood Documentary Competition, New Delhi
Siddhartha Gautam Film Festival, Kolkata
Dialogues: Calcutta Queer Film Festival, Kolkata
Our Live… to Live Film Festival, Bombay, Kolkata and other cities across in India

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“We Are Foot Soldiers” A Review by Mr. Mingling

“Mr Mingling ” is a senior in high school living in San Francisco, CA. His mother is a producer of the San Francisco Sex Worker Film and Arts Festival. He likes watching movies, and reading biographical novels.

A couple of days ago, I watched a movie called “We Are Foot Soldiers”. It was the story of a couple of children in Sonagachi Red Light district, in Kolkata, India, fighting for reform, change, and all kinds of other things to help the abused, and the mistreated sex workers in the area, and hopefully beyond.

To go more in-depth, this movie was the story of five children, who are named Gobindo, Ratan, Chaitali, Mithu, and, “Pinky” (Real name not said).The main focus of this film is to tell the stories of what all the children have in common, that being, all of their mothers, happen to be Sex Workers in the Red Light-District in which most of the children inhabit.

Each of these children have a background that they tell in the movie, and each of those backgrounds are as moving as the last. These stories range from fairly tame, to “Heart-wrenchingly sad”, and that is what I think is the most important aspect of this movie. They are not here to just tell us what is happening, and, dare I say, this movie goes beyond sex worker rights, or stopping abuse all together. This movie, in my opinion, is more about changing how people view the different classes in India, or just in society. I think that the children want us to get the message that no one should be abused, or treated different due to their place in society.

Towards the end of the movie, is where they started to take some action. They formed a group known as “We are Foot Soldiers”, to try to help their mothers, and all the mothers (all sex workers, not just mothers) they can by giving their support if they hear about a “pimp” turning an underage girl, or a man beating on another woman. They are there to help, and most interestingly, they are there to fight for their mother’s right to continue their work, and to raise awareness on the subject. I think the moral they want us to walk away from is, “You can’t judge a book by it’s cover”.

What I took from the movie was more than I could put into words, but I’m gonna try anyways, so here we go. I think that what I learned from this movie most, was tolerance. It’s like, why should I judge what another person does to make money. James Brown once said, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat”, and because no one is offering any opportunity for the men and women in this business, it’s like, what can I even say, they just want to pay the bills.

Lastly, I just want to say to the makers of the film, BRAVO!!! I loved it. It was a great film, and well, it got the message to me. This movie, in my opinion, will inspire many more people to try and help, maybe not in India, but I think they will try to help other people like the sex workers in the movie, or maybe they will try to get help for the children of sex workers, who have to bear the “shame” (as the ignorant people say) that the mothers bring on them, so they can have a positive outlook, I mean, the possibilities are endless, and that’s the great part.

Other Works

International Sex Workers Rights Day- The Origin
Brigada Callejera de Apoyo a la Mujer “Elisa Martínez”, AC
A Safer Sex Trade (trailer)
Born Into Porn

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