Theater and Sex Work: VAMP’s Performance as Resistance

Vaishya Anyay Mukti Parishad (Sex Workers Free from Injustice), also known as VAMP, is a collective of sex-workers in Sangli, a small Indian border town on the commercial trucking routes between the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka.  Working since 1996 with the not-for-profit organization SANGRAM (founded 1992), VAMP has been a vocal and effective organizer around issues of HIV/AIDS awareness, testing and treatment, advocating for labor and human rights for sex workers, and empowering its members to tell their own stories and improve conditions in their communities.

“Theater and Sex Work: VAMP’s Performance and Resistance” is a film that documents the challenges that VAMP faced in building a grassroots organization by and for sex workers, how members overcame stigma and obstacles to organizing, and how members use their personal narratives of trauma, violence, and community connection as powerful organizing tools.

VAMP and Transnational Feminisms

The Transnational Feminisms Initiative was founded in 2010 by Catherine Sameh, former BCRW Associate Director and current Assistant Professor of Gender and Sexuality at UC-Irvine. The initiative seeks to continue BCRW’s longstanding practice of joining scholarship and activism to connect the work of Barnard faculty and students with feminist scholars and activists around the world, attending to the realities of local, national, regional, and other kinds of boundaries while building more deeply connected networks, organizations, and movements in the struggle toward justice.

In March 2012, Catherine Sameh and Shayoni Mitra, Assistant Professor of Theater at Barnard College and BCRW Advisory Board member, took a group of six Barnard students to visit VAMP in Sangli to attend a performance of their play “Hum Aur Tum Sab” (Us and You All) directed by Sushama Deshpande, a well-known professional of Marathi theater. “Hum Aur Tum Sab” tells the story of VAMP itself–the early reluctance to join it, how its members overcame stigma and challenges to organizing, and now how it collaborates with other organizations in a global network working for the rights of sex workers. Alongside this institutional history, we get powerful personal narratives of trauma, violence, disease, but also laughter and sisterhood. Refusing to play victim or objects in a savior project, VAMP uses theatre as a powerful tool for community storytelling. VAMP expanded on the themes of this play and performed it at the International AIDS Conference in Kolkata, India in July 2012.

“Theater and Sex Work: VAMP’s Performance as Resistance” includes footage from that performance, stills from the show in Sangli in March 2012, and interviews conducted by Professor Mitra in January 2013.

As part of her larger transnational feminisms project, Professor Mitra is engaged in investigating how collaborations can help archive and document activist theater, how performance can expand the scope of advocacy alongside traditional grassroots organizing, and in what ways activists, academics and students can work together to amplify and circulate the voices and stories of collectives like VAMP.

Visit Professor Mitra’s Barnard College faculty page for more information or to contact her about her work.

Video Credits

“Theater and Sex Work: VAMP’s Performance as Resistance” was created by Shayoni Mitra, edited and produced by Pulkit Datta.

This video includes interviews Professor Mitra conducted with members of VAMP, including Kiran Ramchandra Deshmukh, Chanda Yamnappa Vajane, Sangita Ramu Manoji, Rajendra Vinayak Naik, and Kamalabai Gullappa Pani, and Director of SANGRAM Meena Sheshu.

The six students from Barnard College visiting Sangli in 2012 were Shilpa Guha, Sarah Lederman, Jordan Borgman, Niharah Gill, JungHee Hyun and Zoe Namerow.

The Barnard Center for Research on Women engages our communities through programming, projects, and publications that advance intersectional social justice feminist analyses and generate concrete steps toward social transformation.

© 2017 Barnard Center for Research on Women | 101 Barnard Hall | 3009 Broadway | New York, NY 10027