Will the Supreme Court ruling on sex workers change the way they are treated?

Last month, in a landmark order, India’s Supreme Court recognized prostitution as a profession and also ordered police to treat sex workers with dignity. It has issued six guidelines protecting the interests of sex workers.

He also called on the Press Council of India to order the media not to publish or broadcast any photos that would reveal their identity. The publication or broadcast of their photographs of raid or rescue operations will be a criminal offence.

What does this ordinance mean for sex workers and their right to live a dignified life? His history spoke to leading sex workers working for the cause to find out if things will change for the better or if there is still a long way to go before sex workers can live the lives they deserve.

Ruchira Gupta, Founder-President of Apne Aap Women Worldwide has for over three decades campaigned and worked for a “world where no girl or woman is bought or sold”.

She pioneered gender sensitive interventions to end intergenerational prostitution among denotified tribes in Bihar, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and West Bengal. She also helped introduce and shape anti-trafficking policies and laws around the world.

“While the Supreme Court’s May 19 order directing police to treat women and child prostitutes with decency and dignity is welcome, I wish the court had provided more clarity on the punishment of traffickers and sex buyers,” Ruchira said.

She thinks that while prostituted women want protection from police harassment, they also want protection from muscle men who take advantage of them and sex buyers who are extremely violent with them.

They live in difficult and extreme circumstances as pimps and brothel owners brutally beat the women if they do not earn their daily quota of money. Sex buyers pinch, urinate on, box and murder women.

“Women in prostitution have the highest rate of homicide victimization of any group of women ever studied, according to a study published by the National Library of Medicine at the National Center for Biotechnology Information,” she adds.

She also asks a relevant question. “What will happen to minor children? It is impossible to study or sleep inside a brothel. The reality is that a customer can walk into a brothel at night or during the day and the children play on the floor while their mothers are in the same room serving customers. Often the clients reach out to touch the child and the mother is unable to protect her daughter.

What will happen to the children?

Ruchira points out that in some of the red light districts where Apne Aap works, female prostitutes and brothels steal, kidnap and buy abandoned babies from hospitals, raising them as their own, to prostitute them when they reach adulthood.

“The judgment leaves room for confusion because it does not mention the extent of what the police should do. They should have reinforced that the police must arrest and investigate sex traffickers and buyers of child sex,” she says.

“My concern is that the Supreme Court order could, in practice, deal a good blow to traffickers and buyers of child sex. The lack of guidelines on what the police should do with traffickers and buyers of sex is a glaring error. This omission can encourage an industry to thrive that preys on the most vulnerable women and children. Girls and women at risk may be turned away by the police and will be denied access to justice, protection and rehabilitation,” adds Ruchira.

Seema Waghmode is the founder of the NGO Kayakalpaan organization that since 1993 has helped sex workers and their children in the red light district of Budhwar Peth in Pune with health care, shelter and education.

Seema says she is glad this Supreme Court order came while she was alive.

“I saw how much they (sex workers) struggle. They have been arrested so many times. Some of them were crying and one of them said abhi mujhe zindagi main prison nahin jaana padega (Now I don’t have to go to jail anymore) I told the kids that your mothers would never be arrested by the police again.

But now that the announcement has been made, Seema is afraid of “revenge”.

“They (police) will definitely try to find another way but now order becomes our shield. They can claim their rights and say no one can stop me. Now the police will find other ways to target,” she says.

Meena Saraswathi Seshu, General Secretary, SANGRAM, a women-led, rights-based group says: “The guidelines provided by the Supreme Court of India are a matter of celebration for everyone – sex workers, sex work allies and the feminist movement in India and around the world who has participated in the fight for the rights of sex workers in the country; especially the sex workers and activists who have worked tirelessly with the panel and represented the cause of sex workers in court. This is a big win for all of us. »

“We look forward to the positive changes this decision will bring to the movement towards the rights of sex workers in India and our neighboring countries. It is a step towards the decriminalization of sex work and sex workers and the proper recognition of their work as informal workers in the country,” she adds.

My kids don’t need to live in a brothel with me

Ruchira gives us some of the reactions from sex workers in the areas where Apne Aap works.

Keya of Sonagachi, a Calcutta red light district says:

“Why didn’t the SC order ask the government to allocate more budget for loans, child support, low-cost individual accommodation and ration cards for women? prostitutes? My son was able to study because our NGO Apne Aap placed him in a boarding school. How can a child study in a brothel, when there is a lot of noise, no time to sleep and the danger of aggression? What about underage sex buyers? Why didn’t the SC clarify anything about them? ” she asks.

Priya from GB Road, Delhi, says: “Children need to be rescued and rehabilitated in shelters and then connected to the school system. My kids don’t need to live in a brothel with me. They must be in a boarding school where they can study and play safely. SC lawyers have not been in a brothel.

Fatima in the bazaar of Lalten says: “I wish the SC had ordered the police to arrest those who take advantage of our bodies – pimps, brothel keepers, money lenders, landlords and muscle men. At present, the police primarily use a clause in Section 8 of the ITPA under which they arrest women for soliciting. I want them to stop arresting us and arrest the perpetrators instead.

Fatima would like to speak for herself but the SC has ordered the media to keep the faces and names of adult female prostitutes hidden. She says she feels silenced and gassed.

(Additional contributions by Tenzin Norzom)

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