Prophylactic Rights examines the emergence of the sex work labour subjectivity at the intersection of two state surveillance regimes: HIV/AIDS and anti-trafficking. It draws on ethnographic work since 2011 with Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (Durbar), a grassroots female sex workers' collective in Sonagachi. 

In 1992 the All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health identified sex workers as a High-Risk Group and launched the Sexually Transmitted Diseases/HIV Intervention Project (SHIP) in Sonagachi. SHIP recruited sex workers as peer-educators to introduce others to the aetiology of HIV/AIDS and promote the condom as the prophylactic device. In addressing structural barriers –poverty and stigma– SHIP achieved remarkable success in reducing new HIV infections through the sustained use of condoms. More importantly, SHIP extended the prophylactic narrative beyond public health to emphasize the threat the virus posed to the labour and livelihood of the women.

The rearticulation of HIV/AIDS as a question of the labouring body, worthy of rights, was unprecedented in Sonagachi. It motivated the peer educators to establish Durbar in 1995 as a collective to demand sex work rights and juridically delink it from trafficking. The existing literature posits both sex work and sex workers as a priori categories when the categories themselves are relatively new in Sonagachi. 

This project examines how the labour narrative emerges in dissociation from 'prostitution' and how 'prostitutes' come to inhabit the worker position. Simanti Dasgupta argues that for labour to emerge as a political category, the women submitted to HIV/AIDS and anti-trafficking surveillances while also subverting them with resistive connotations. In formulating what she terms the 'risk-crime continuum', Dasgupta further shows that the struggle for labour rights in such instances of historical marginalization is exacerbated by the HIV/AIDS and anti-trafficking prevention apparatuses.