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Faking it? Not tonight, darling

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SHOW AND TELL: A training session on how to spot a fake currency note in progress for the Sonagachi sex workers in Kolkata

After being deluged by them, sex workers in Kolkata are being taught how to spot fake currency notes.

Saturday afternoons now witness some unusual activity in central Kolkata's Sonagachi area, one of Asia's largest red-light districts. Two dozen-odd sex workers huddle in a room for a training session on detecting fake currency notes. Shatabdi Saha, a banker who works with the Usha Multipurpose Cooperative Society where most of Sonagachi's 10, 000-odd sex workers have accounts, conducts the hour-long sessions that have become "absolutely necessary" because, she says, many customers had started palming off fake notes to the sex workers for their services. The Society has also installed a fake-note detecting machine at its office at Sonagachi.

Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN), as counterfeit Indian currency notes are officially called, is now a big menace and a grave security threat. It is believed that FICN comes through the porous Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bangla borders, and the central government has often accused Pakistan's intelligence agency of being responsible for much of this flow.
Training for these Kolkata sex workers started about six months ago when the administrators of the Usha Society, which is run by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) that fights for rights of sex workers, witnessed a steep rise in counterfeit currency notes being deposited by sex workers.

"We became very alarmed as the sex workers are very poor. If customers give them counterfeit notes, it's a great loss for them, " DMSC secretary Bharati Dey told TOI. She pointed out that unlike others, sex workers cannot go to the police to report such fake notes. "The police will start harassing them instead of helping them. "
Dey recalls the case of a sex worker who came to deposit her week's savings at the society's office. "It turned out that all the five one-hundred-rupee notes she wanted to deposit in her account were fake. It was a terrible loss for her and she had no one to turn to. She could not go to the police also because she had no idea of which of her customers gave her the fake currency notes and, anyway, sex workers don't trust the police, " said Dey.

"We then thought we ought to show the women how to differentiate between fake and genuine notes. This took shape six months ago and we now train them in batches of 25 or so, " said Bharati Dey. Shatabdi possesses genuine and counterfeit currency notes of all denominations from Rs 10 to Rs 1, 000 and uses them to demonstrate to her class the key differences between the two.

Her work got easier when the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in April launched a website - www. paisaboltahai. rbi. org. in - that llustrates the security features in genuine currency notes in April. "This website is a great help in demonstrating the difference between fake and genuine notes, " she pointed out.

And the training has proved useful for many. "Last week, a customer handed me a Rs 100 note and when I held it against the light, I saw that the security thread did not have 'RBI' and 'Bharat' inscribed on it and the vertical band on the extreme right of the note did not have the numeral '100' that a genuine note would have. It was a fake, but a good one, and even the customer didn't know it was fake. He replaced it immediately. Had I not undergone the training, I would never have been able to detect this fake note, " said Pinky, a sex worker in her mid-20 s.

Many of those who have undergone the training educate their fellow sex workers, in turn, on how to detect fake notes. "Taking currency notes at random and competing with each other to name and detect the various security features in genuine notes has become a favourite pastime among many of us. I can reel off the security features in currency notes of all the six denominations (10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1, 000) with ease. It took a lot of practice. I now help many of my friends here in gaining expertise in this. They often come to me to check if a currency note they have received from a customer is genuine or not, " said Promilla, a sex worker from Nepal in her late 30s.

Dey points out that the number of fake notes being brought to Usha Society now has come down drastically. The fake-note detecting machine has also helped greatly. "Many sex workers come to our office if they have any doubts about the genuineness of a currency note and check it on the machine. Some fake notes, especially of the higher denominations, have been detected in this manner, " said an administrator of Usha Society.

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