Dr Smarajit Jana was an epidemiologist who curbed the spread of HIV through sex work at the height of the epidemic in the 90’s. He realised that combating HIV was not a question of information but of empowerment, and led a structural change fighting for sex workers’ rights. He helped the country’s administration understand the sex work community and flipped the HIV control programme’s disease-centric perspective to a rights based one.
Dr Jana passed away earlier this month on May 8 due to COVID-19. He was also a member of the National Task Force on COVID-19. On this episode of The Suno India Show, reporter Suryatapa Mukherjee explores Dr Jana’s legacy. She speaks to K Sujatha Rao, former Secretary of Health and Family Welfare, and Bharati Dey, head of sex workers’ collective Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee. We look back at how a public health worker began a fight for sex workers in Asia’s largest red light district, Sonagachi, that reverberated across the world.