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Sex workers in Manipur allege police harassment
For the first time in Manipur, a health camp for commercial sex workers and injected drug users has been organised by a women’s group, which is giving free medical care to them, operates around Paona Bazar and north AOC area in Imphal.
THE HEALTH camp of the commercial sex workers and injecting drug users was organised by a group of women who come out in open for the rights of these women and was also supported by the directorate of health services, Manipur and Manipur State Aids Control Society. According to the secretary of South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) who is also a commercial sex worker, the main objective was to provide medical care for those Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and IDUs who were unable to openly consult doctors due to stigma and discrimination they face in the society.

These women operate their business in filthy places of Paona Bazar and north AOC areas, which are considered a hotbed of prostitution and according to the organisation the rights of many of these women are violated. Officials from the State Health Directorate and medical staffs attended to the medical needs of these women and distributed free medicines. To the surprise of the organisation itself, many women turned up to the health camp despite of the anonymity they maintain. The secretary of the organisation explains the objective behind forming of the organisation.

These commercial sex workers and injecting drug users are also very vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and many of them are reported to be HIV positive. The secretary of the organisation further said that the existing stigma and discrimination in the society has also prompted them to form the organisation. According to findings of NGOs, the number of sex workers in Imphal area is increasing and most of the girls and women are compelled by circumstances and by choice to take up this profession.

The organisation, which was formed only two-three months back with only 15 members who are sex workers cum intravenous drug users, is increasing in numbers as they spread the awareness of their rights. Even though, the organisation is in its initial stage and facing difficulties to run, the members are committed to work for the betterment of these women. Some of these women were either harassed or molested before taking sex work as a profession and even after joining the profession, the police, who is supposed to provide protection, is reportedly collecting money from them and sexually harassing them. According to them, they did not choose to be sex workers, but circumstances prompted them to join the flesh trade, they cited violence against women, trafficking, looking for livelihood and to brought up children are some of the reasons.

These women come to Imphal from various districts and from Imphal itself too and do the business by taking shelters in shady hotels and bars. The hotels’ owners also reportedly take most of the money they earn. These women are living an extreme life and with the threat of HIV/AIDS looming due to the nature of their work, the state government needs to make some sort of policy or plan to rehabilitate these women.
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