Elections in West Bengal are invariably a violent affair. But in this election, the eight candidates contesting sat in a row holding the symbols allotted to them, laughing and joking with each other.This unique election, held on Wednesday in city’s Salt Lake area, was restricted to the community of sex workers who cast their votes to elect the office bearers of Durbar Mahila Samanaway Committee (DMSC), the largest sex workers’ collective in the country with 50,000 members.Smarajit Jana, an advisor of the DMSC who oversaw the elections, said the process started in June with elections to the 45 branch committees spread across West Bengal. On Wednesday, the 180 elected representatives from the 45 branch committees gathered at a community hall in Salt Lake to elect the office-bearers . There are a strict set of guidelines for holding the polls and observers were appointed to ensure that the process was free and fair. Only those who declared themselves as “sex workers” could contest and vote in the elections. “We have been not allowed to access our mobile phones. We cannot talk to any of the voters, not even wave or smile to them,” said Bishakha Laskar, contesting for the post of the president of DMSC. Ms. Laskar’s election symbol was a ladder. Other contenders for the post were allotted symbols like the telephone and sun. Three set of ballot papers were printed for the voters to decide the top three office-bearers of the DMSC.Mamata Mukherjee, an office-bearer at the Chetla branch of DMSC, said she was a first-time voter. “There is not much difference between voting in this election and in the general election. The only difference is that there is no violence or fear here,” she said. Others involved in the process said the elections had been free and fair and without any violence. Banshi Badan Chattopadhyay, a retired school teacher, functioned as one of three observers in the poll process. “We are checking for false voters and ensuring that everything goes on as per rules,” Mr. Chattopadhyay said.Explaining the need for holding such polls, Dr. Jana said that the election not only empowered the women but also helped the office-bearers relate to the problems of fellow sex workers.Shortly after the end of the polling, Bishakha Laskar was elected as the president of DMSC, Kajal Bose as secretary and Abeda Bibi as it treasurer.