Meena Seshu is an activist for sex workers' rights. She is the founder of the non-governmental organisation (NGO) SANGRAM[1] which is aimed at empowering sex workers. She created Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP),[2] a collective of people in sex work. Seshu is based in Sangli, Maharashtra,and SANGRAM and VAMP work in Maharashtra and Karnataka.[3]

Meena Seshu
Ms Meena Seshu Photo.jpg
Meena Saraswathi Seshu

24 March 1962
OccupationSocial activist
Known forSex workers' rights


Seshu was born on 24 March 1962, in Bengaluru, Karnataka. She grew up in Mumbai. She has a bachelor's degree in Life Sciences and a master's degree in Social Welfare from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. She worked with Stree Mukti Sangharsh, the women's wing of Shramik Mukti Dal, Maharashtra. She moved to Sangli in 1986 along with her husband who got a job with the Marathi Newspaper Kesari.[3]

Social workEdit

During the mid 1980s, Seshu was an activist looking to stop brutality against women in Maharashtra state. Her real focus in the following decade was HIV/AIDS as it took a destructive toll in the poor regions where she worked. She began working with a group of women who experienced disturbing rates of both violence and HIV/AIDS.[4] Her experience showed her that organising into collectives is a useful method for bringing about empowerment, so she adopted this in the brothels she visited.[5] This led to the setting up of Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha (SANGRAM)[1] set up in 1992[6] and Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP),[2] a collective led by sex workers, set up in 1996. These work in eight districts across Maharashtra and Karnataka.[2] Seshu went on to set up Vidrohi Mahila Manch, a collective of rural women that spreads awareness against HIV/AIDS, in 1997.[3] In 2000, she set up two more collectives: Muskan for Men who have sex with men (MSM) and Nazariya for women living with HIV.[7] In 2006, she set up a Centre for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalisation (CASAM). She had begun working with children of sex workers in 2004, and built a hostel for them called Mitra in Nipani, Karnataka, in 2009.[3]

Seshu's work is focused on decriminalisation of sex work. She believes rehabilitation efforts can be misguided:[2][8][9]

"In VAMP we have a slogan: “save us from saviours”. These saviours are saving us for themselves, they’re not saving us for ourselves. If they had come to save us for ourselves, maybe they’d help us get better working conditions, they wouldn’t use the most oppressive arm of the State, the police, to “help us”"[10]

Seshu wants safety and removal of occupational hazards in sex work - violence, unsafe conditions and practices, and she wants sex workers to have access to treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like HIV.[10][11]

These aims led to a controversy in 2005, when Seshu made the decision that SANGRAM would not support a United States government policy, the Anti-prostitution pledge.[12][5]


  1. ^ a b "Sangram is a voluntary organization". SANGRAM.
  2. ^ a b c d "VAMP (VESHYA ANYAY MUKTI PARISHAD)". Global Network of Sex Work Projects. 1 December 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d Ratnam, Dhamini (7 November 2015). "Dignity to sex work". LiveMint.
  4. ^ "Celebrating Our Global Leaders: Meena Seshu". American Jewish World Service - AJWS.
  5. ^ a b "Spotlight on Meena Seshu, SANGRAM: Sex Worker Rights in Rural India". Open Society Foundations.
  6. ^ Shetty, Priya (July 2010). "Meena Saraswathi Seshu: tackling HIV for India's sex workers". The Lancet. 376 (9734): 17. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(10)61044-6. PMID 20609982.
  7. ^ "UNAIDS Reference Group on HIV and Human Rights | Meena Saraswathi Seshu". Archived from the original on 2018-05-21. Retrieved 2018-05-20.
  8. ^ "NGOs rally for safety of woman sex workers - Times of India". The Times of India.
  9. ^ "Anti-trafficking measures leave sex workers vulnerable to exploitation: study". The Indian Express. 5 March 2018.
  10. ^ a b "'If They Really Wanted to Help Us, They Wouldn't Send the Police.' 5 Things We All Get Wrong about Sex Work – The Ladies Finger".
  11. ^ "Are Indians Outraged by Sex Work Because of their Taboos about Sex? - The Ladies FingerThe Ladies Finger".
  12. ^ "Meena Seshu Discusses India, Sex Work and Human Rights". American Jewish World Service.