Prostitution has been there since time immorial, but
our society has never come to terms to accept and relate to this fact. Sexwork feeds a chunk of the population, so why take away their daily bread.
Sitamarhi, Bihar: Mob attacks sex workers and burns down 250 houses in front of the police.
Calicut, Kerala: Sex workers evicted from their homes and their houses burnt by the cadre of the ruling party.
Channapattana, Karnataka: Goondas (supported by police) brutally attack sex workers who had gathered to demonstrate peacefully for their rights.
Delhi: Police forcibly pick up 70 adult sex workers in Delhi, in gross violation of their basic rights and detain them in jails and protective homes of Andhra Pradesh, under the guise of rescuing/ helping/ reforming sex workers.
These are not isolated incidents but witness to the growing intolerance and prejudice against sex workers. Sex workers face constant police violence, goonda violence and extreme social rejection. Hounded by the goondas (goons) and constantly harassed by the police, sex workers are in danger of not only getting marginalised but also becoming far more vulnerable to HIV-AIDS. As sex workers are forced to run from street to street, adopting safer sex practices, accessing health care services or even using condoms becomes almost impossible, in spite of their best efforts to save their lives. As a large part of their earnings go to police, goondas and the government (as court fines), they are forced to work long hours, serve more clients and often put themselves at risk. Constantly, they are coerced to compromise with everyone because of the fear of false cases being foisted on them, as well as being insulted and humiliated in public and denied even basic dignity and respect.
The Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA) criminalises most aspects of sex work by equating ’voluntary adult sex work’ with trafficking. Trafficking -- the business
of forcing children and adults against their will into various forms of work, including sex work, is totally unacceptable. Sex workers have been struggling against the unfairness in ITPA. Police make use of ITPA to harass, abuse and extort money from sex workers, most of whom are disadvantaged in many ways.
To make matters worse, the Central Government has proposed to amend the ITPA to punish the clients of sex workers. The logic behind the move is supposedly to prevent trafficking of people into sex work by reducing demand for sex work. There is enough evidence from numerous countries that criminalising clients of sex workers doesn’t help in combating trafficking but only pushes sex work underground making sex workers more vulnerable to violence and HIV infection. The Central Government is planning to go ahead with this in spite of protests from sex workers and human rights activists for the last few years. This process will deny sex workers basic rights for survival and livelihood. In a democracy, the government must duly consult all concerned and affected people before amending any law. But the Union government has been ignoring the voices of the sex workers in the ITPA amendment process. The role of the government should be to enable sex workers to access their social entitlements and rights.
Sex workers have broken their long silence. They have been forming their own organisations, strengthening their communities, engaging with the society at large and supporting governmental efforts in combating HIV-AIDS. They have been extending solidarity and support to the struggles of various marginalised people, including women, dalits, adivasis, minorities, the poor, workers and others.
All the citizens must understand that the sex workers are also people like us and we all should join hands to demand that the government drops the ITPA amendment process immediately.
Constituent organisations of Karnataka
state coalition against ITPA are: Aneka, Ashodaya Samithi, Jyothi Mahila Sangha, Karnataka Sexual Minorities Forum, Karnataka Sexworkers Union, LesBiT, Samara, Sangama, Sangram, Suraksha, Swathi Mahila Sangha, Veshya Anyay Mukthi Parishad, Vijaya Mahila Sangha.