SILIGURI, 4 JUNE :Many sex workers of Siliguri and Dinhata in Cooch Behar district lost their lifelong savings in ponzi schemes. More than 550 sex workers in both Siliguri and Dinhata had invested money worth several crores in the chit funds which promised to double their money. Most of them had invested in Saradha Group.
The agents of the Usha multipurpose cooperative society ~ the bank catering to financial needs of the sex workers and which meets their monetary requirements formed in 1995, asked the sex workers to invest their money in the chit fund companies as it would ensure higher returns compared to the bank.
The bank was an initiative of the Durbar Mahila Samanway Samity (DMSS) which wanted the bank to channelise the hard-earned money of the sex workers, which would otherwise either get squandered or plundered. The cooperative appointed agents from among the children of sex workers and they would go collecting the deposits.
The manager of the bank, Mr Santanu Chatterjee said they came to know that the sex workers had invested their savings in the chit funds at the end of 2008. “We had realised something fishy at the end of January because the members (sex workers) had not been depositing their savings at Usha. In January 2011, we felt the investment in the chit fund companies especially in the Saradha Group and Rose Valley increased tremendously,” Mr Chatterjee said.
He said the auditors had visited the Usha branch I at Siliguri on 7 January 2013 and it was found that the members had invested between Rs 80 lakh to 90 lakh in the sham companies till Janaury.
“The amount has already crossed more than a crore so far. After realising the trend we had already introduced awareness programmes. The agents of Usha had collected the amount from them for the chit funds. Our bank provides 5 per cent interest on investment and 10.11 per cent for daily investment. For the last one decade, Usha Bank was the only bank where sex workers deposited their money and earnings. In the last financial year, the turnover of the bank was Rs 16 crore. But since the end of January 2008, chit funds with their lucrative schemes started operating in Sonagachi. The chit fund incident placed our bank in critical position,” Mr Chatterjee said.
He said the members of Usha is around 332 in Siliguri and 232 in Dinhata.
After being duped by the chit funds, the sex workers of Siliguri and Dinhata have decided to launch a movement under the banner of the DMSS against the sham companies. They have also lodged complaints at the Shyamal Sen Commission. In a bid to spread awareness, the cultural wing of the sex workers ‘Komol Gandhar’ and ‘Amra Padatik’ ~ an organisation was formed by the children of the sex workers.
A member of the Usha in Siliguri, Ms Sankari Das said the sex workers had lost everything after depositing their savings in the chit funds. “We had been repeatedly requesting them not to invest in the ponzi schemes. The Usha provides house loan, educational loan to them but since they were promised to get higher interests they deposited the money there. Even some of them had invested Rs 50,000 or Rs 60,000 each,” she said.
A sex worker of Siliguri brothel said she had invested Rs 30,000 in Saradha Group. “But now I have no savings, I thought to arrange the money for the education of my only son. I had invested the amount a year ago at Saradha instead of the Usha bank on the promise of doubling the money. Intitially, I was getting interest but from this year everything stopped,” she said.
When asked, the DMSS secretary Ms Bharati Dey said they had been providing legal assistance to the victims. “The sex workers of Siliguri and Dinhata had lodged complaints at the complaint receiving centres under the Shyamal Sen commission in Siliguri. We have already launched a massive awareness campaign in the red light area to educate the sex workers about the consequences of investing in ponzi schemes,” Ms Dey said.