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Toorjo Ghose received a Fulbright U.S. Scholar award to India and will teach at the Presidency University of Kolkata. (Photo from Penn School of Social Policy and Practice)

Toorjo Ghose, associate professor in the School of Social Policy & Practice, has received a Fulbright United States Scholar award to India, where he will teach at the Presidency University of Kolkata.

The Fulbright Program is sponsored by the U.S. government, and is an education program focused on connecting communities internationally. Since its creation, it has funded over 390,000 scholars and professionals, enabling them to research and teach internationally, SP2 News reported. Ghose’s work will focus on strategies used by sex workers in India to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, and how these strategies were shaped by the HIV epidemic. 

Ghose said his idea for the research came from a collective of sex workers in India in the 1990s who came together to fight against the HIV epidemic.

“I want to document this and work collaboratively with [sex workers], and also tell the world what strategies they were using, because back [in the 90s], how sex workers engaged with the HIV epidemic taught us how to engage with it," Ghose said. "They organized, demanded medication, demanded vaccination, demanded legalization of criminalized communities, and some of the same things are in play in this pandemic.”

Ghose’s work will connect members of the Penn community with students and community members in Kolkata. For 12 years, Ghose has taught SWRK 772: "Postcolonial Social Work Practice," a class in which SP2 students visited India and worked on projects proposed by the sex work community in India. The Fulbright Scholars program will allow Ghose to simultaneously teach Presidency and Penn students, SP2 News reported. 

Ghose added that the presence of social inequalities in both India and the United States has caused the pandemic to disproportionately impact marginalized communities in both countries.

“All pandemics throw into focus these social inequalities," Ghose said. "In the U.S., we're working on engaging on issues of racial injustice around the pandemic; Black and brown communities inside prisons are deeply affected [by COVID-19], as are immigrant communities. The same is true in India. Marginalized communities are being deeply affected.”

Ghose is a founding member and CEO of the Center for Carceral Communities, which provides resources for formerly incarcerated people in Philadelphia. Through the Fulbright scholarship, he will extend his work on social drivers of pandemics to India.

In Kensington, Ghose was involved in the formation of a community action board of sex workers which helped sex workers access medical providers during COVID-19. He has also been involved in a variety of initiatives through the Center for Carceral Communities, such as the distribution of cell phones to formerly incarcerated people. 

“I’m sharing strategies, figuring out how to address these social inequalities around gender, around criminalization of sex work, around incarceration, around homelessness," Ghose said. "These are strategies we will be sharing through the classroom and through the research and through Zoom portals during my Fulbright with the sex worker community in India, as well as Kensington.”