MEETING WITH THE WOMEN IN PROSTITUTION ON PREPARING THE RESPONSE TO THE SUPREME COURT ORDER ON REHABILITATION
A day long workshop on preparing their response to the Supreme Court Order on rehabilitation of Women in Prostitution. The workshop was organized on March 30, 2011 in the India International Centre. The programme was attended by 30 Women in Prostitution of G.B. Road, NGO staffs, social activists and media personals.
The programme was started by the welcome speech by Ravi Kant, Advocate Supreme Court of India and President of Shakti Vahini. In the welcome speech he spoke about the purpose of this meeting with the stakeholders. He said that the objective of this meeting is to think and strategize about the future of the women in prostitution in light of the Supreme Court Notice. He said that it is a fact that women in prostitution live in very difficult situation where the basic human rights are violated and it gets worse each day. After a time a victim ends up in a situation of bondage. They have nothing to look forward to in the present and the future is bleak. In every step of their life the violation of the human rights are being taken place.
The Supreme Court has recently, on its own motion, issued notice to all States in India and the Union Of India on the issue of Rehabilitation of Sex Workers, providing and ensuring rights to them under Article 21 ‘Right To Life’ of the Indian Constitution while hearing a case of murder of a sex worker at the red light area of Sonagachi, West Bengal. The judgment came from the case of Budhdev Karmakar vs. Govt. of West Bengal. The case was appealed in the Supreme Court after it did not get satisfactory judgment from the High Court.
One of the key components of the TI Project is to reduce vulnerability and ensure empowerment of women in prostitution and with this mandate, the Joint TI Project and Project Fight Slavery organized the meeting with the FSWs to discuss their plights and problems and take their suggestions so that the vulnerability of women in prostitution can be addressed, their inclusion in the mainstream can be pursued and their livelihood options may be evolved.
Advocate Ravi Kant first discussed in detail about the Supreme Court Order on Budhdev Karmakar vs. State of West Bengal Case. The extract of the Court order is as follows:
The case is of a brutal murder of a sex worker. Sex workers are also human beings and no one has a right to assault or murder them. A person becomes a prostitute not because she enjoys it but because of poverty. Society must have sympathy towards the sex workers and must not look down upon them. They are also entitled to a life of dignity in view of Article 21 of the Constitution. In the novels and stories of he great Bengali Writer Sharat Chand Chattopadhyaya, many prostitutes have been shown to be women of very high character, e.g., Rajyalakshmi in ‘Shrikant’, Chandramukhi in ‘Devdas’ etc. The plight of prostitutes has been depicted by the great Urdu poet Sahil Ludhianvi in his poem ‘Chakle’ which has been sung in the Hindi film Pyasa “Jineh Naaz Hai Hind Per wo kahan hain” (simplified version of the verse ‘Sana Khwane- taqdees-e-Mashrik Kahan Hain’). We may also refer to the character Sonya Marmelodov in Dostoyevsky’s famous novel ‘Crime and Punishment’. Sonya is depicted as a girl who sacrifices her body to earn some bread for her impoverished family. Reference may also be made to Amrapali, who was a contemporary of Lord Buddha.
We strongly feel that the Central and the State Governments through Social Welfare Boards should prepare schemes for rehabilitation all over the country for physically and sexually abused women commonly known as prostitutes as we are of the view that the prostitutes also have a right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution of India since they are also human beings and their problems also need to be addressed. As already observed by us, a woman is compelled to indulge in prostitution not for pleasure but because of abject poverty. If such a woman is granted opportunity to avail some technical or vocational training, she would be able to earn her livelihood by such vocational training and skill instead of by selling her body. Hence, we direct the Central and the State Governments to prepare schemes for giving technical/vocational training to sex workers and sexually abused women in all cities in India. The schemes should mention in detail who will give the technical/vocational training and in what manner they can be rehabilitated and settled by offering them employment. For instance, if a technical training is for some craft like sewing garments, etc. then some arrangements should also be made for providing a market for such garments, otherwise they will remain unsold and unused, and consequently the women will not be able to feed herself. We propose to have the response of the Centre and the States in this regard and hence the case shall be listed before us again on 04.05.2011 to be taken up as first case on which date the first compliance report indicating therein the first steps taken by the Central and the State Governments in this regard shall be submitted. Issue notice to the Central Government and all the State Governments which will also file responses by the date fixed for hearing.
Then Mr. Kant described the Article 21 (Protection of Life) of the Indian Constitution in detail. The programme gave emphasis on the empowerment of the women in prostitution by preparing them for better lives and development through their own life experiences and stories. The women in prostitution were motivated to speak up their experiences, plights, suggestions and worries regarding their life and their well- being and development.
The issues of human trafficking were discussed in the programme. During his discussion he gave emphasis on Human Trafficking and its ingredients. He narrated the whole process of trafficking under three heads viz. process, means and ends. He said that the process of trafficking starts with process of recruiting, harbouring, moving, obtaining or maintaining a person by means of force, fraud or coercion and ends to involuntary service, debt bondage, slavery or sex trade.
Then he discussed about the never ending cycle of exploitation. A victim is first trafficked in the Red Light Area through the organized crime. The state and the system fails the victim. She is kept in bondage, her basic rights violated and she has to endure six to ten clients daily without getting a single penny. After five to seven years when her bondage ends she is reduced to life of penury. From then onwards the victim earns but ends up spending money on various liabilities. She connects with the family but realizes the family is only interested in money. They don’t want her back. She also tries to raise her children. Some are able to get their children educated through NGOs or Govt schools but is not able to achieve anything. If the victim has a daughter she is more vulnerable. After some time the victim learns the trick of the Trade . She also expands by bringing in some young victim from her village and starts exploiting them. At the end whatever she earns ends up in paying to the money lenders the criminals , the basic maintenance etc. At the end she realizes that whatever she earned is lost and at the end of the day has nothing left.
The women in prostitution then shared their life experiences as to how they landed in this profession of flesh trade. The most common reasons which came into light being abject poverty, sustaining family needs and demands, deceit by people in the name of love, employment, and sometimes even their relatives, family and husbands sold them and thus, they landed in this profession. Before being involved in the trade none of them even did not know that they were going to involve in flesh trade.
The beneficiaries were given the platform to raise their voice. The first voice came from one of the women was that “God at least we have given the platform to speak here. We are lucky enough today. We need such kind of platforms in future too. So that we don’t have to be speechless as we are in the brothels.”
The women in Prostitution shared that nobody cares for them. They don’t know what will happen to them. They are being harassed in every step. Society discriminates them. What we can do for our recognition as a human being? Our family members don’t want to take us back. They think we are burdens for them. But they accept the money we earn from the flesh trade? How is this society?
Advocate Ravi Kant said that here are many women who are from SC/ST background. They don’t have any proof. The women in the prostitution have no existence. That is why this meeting has been called and we will move to the court for the recognition of these women as human beings. The Supreme Court on its own motion started the fight for the rights of the women in the prostitution. Now we have the platform to raise our voice against the non availability of any rehabilitation programmes for women in prostitution. The Supreme Court in Gaurav Jain vs Union of India had told the Govt of India to provide special programme for their protection in 1998 but nothing happened. The Govt every time comes up with schemes which are whimsical and has only provision for institutionalization. The need of the hour is programmes designed for entrepreneurship development so that women can stand on their own feet and take a step forward from this exploitation.
“Before coming into this trade none of them knew that they were being forced to this. In the brothels they are devoid of their basic rights. The women elsewhere even poor are at least safe”.
The women present there said, “If the same system continues, after 10 years we will be in pavements of the G.B. Road. If we get opportunity we want to come out from this place. If government helps us we will be happy. Now there is nobody to think about us even.”
One of the women started crying and said, “I was lured in the pretext of job when I was 13. I was forced to prostitution. All kind of inhuman activities were done against me. I used to get insufficient food. No money for first 5 years. Then I started earning a little. I have a daughter who was born in the brothel only. Now she is living somewhere else. Now I have nothing.” All the women present their unanimously said, “tomorrow we all will be in her position.”
“I have a six years old son. He is in a boarding school. But I am not able to meet my own son as I don’t want to share about my condition. I don’t want to continue with this trade if I get any opportunity. I want to live with my son happily. I have a voter ID card in the address of my village. But it also got expired. In the flesh trade everybody is in debt.” said another woman.
One of the women present over there said, “Everybody says women/girls are in prostitution due to poverty. But things are not like this. The girls are being lured for job any many other reasons. They are being sold and many more reasons.”
Some of the common comments given by the women present there are as follows:
- Our family needs and wants our money but they don’t want to accept us back in their lives. So when our own don’t want us back, where do we stand in the society?
- Everybody is talking so much about us and our plight, but nobody is really coming up with proper redressal measures for us. So everything is just false hope like always.
- We don’t even have any identity proofs such as Voter IDs, Ration Card, PAN Card, BPL Card, etc. Govt. and the concerned and authority should make this available to us. Otherwise, we are and will always be looked down upon as GB residents. And moreover, even if we had these things, they are taken away from us by the owners and managers.
- Though we are Sex Workers, we are also human beings and that we also deserve some respect in the society.
- We want to get out of this trade as soon as possible and get rehabilitated so that our children do not have to face humiliation and grow up in a normal environment and more important, our children do not get tangled and get stuck into this mud.
- The Govt. should come up with some better measures and facilities so that we can earn our livelihood through alternative measures of employment.
- We are so vulnerable because we are harassed by the owners, pimps, clients and even the police.
- Many of the women in prostitution are in debt. They take money to send their home from the money lenders on huge interest. Sometimes clients also cheat us by making us unconscious.
We have lost our confidence as no body is there to help us when we are being tortured. Some of us have identity cards provided by NGOs where we work as peer educator. It is a priceless thing for us. At least some of us have some identity. It helps them show their son/daughters that they are working in Delhi other than flesh trade. Some of us go to visit our family. But they don’t want to accept us permanently. They only love our money not us. We don’t have any option. In fact we don’t have any information on the support structures. The only support which we can access is the HIV programme which works amongst. If anybody comes forward to keep us updating about the rehabilitation facilities we will be ready to take the advice.
Adv. Ravi Kant added there are many government schemes. But these women are devoid of these because of their identity. In the absence of basic identity documents the access to Govt schemes is difficult.
The women said that for us we need the basic identity documents like Ration Cards, Voter Identity Cards and Health Cards. We also need the SC/ST certification as many of us belong to such communities. We are living in very poor condition and hence govt should extend to us all the support which it provides to people below the Poverty Line. For the women in prostitution every rights are being violated. Why government not think about issuing of yellow cards to all the women. Government treats us as we are in conflict with law and not as victim. If any proper rehabilitation process starts we can work together with the mentorship of NGOs or GOs. The Health department is running programmes for HIV/AIDS. The Govt should ensure that agencies like the social welfare department and the Women and Child Department should also be active.
For us the other problem is that we don’t have any support structure. Govt. says we are in the prostitution due to poverty. But exploitation and vulnerability is associated with us. If a woman works somewhere and take her night shelter in the G.B. Road, the other day her employer will deny taking her back.
Mr Ravi Kant said that no fight ends in a single day. You don’t need to be in despair. Building is not built in a day. Most important is that we are ready to fight. There might be many challenges. Since Supreme Court has come up with this notice on its own motion with the agenda we should avail this. We need to work for making the system work properly.
After the open session it was unanimously decided to move Supreme Court and file a Intervention Application in the case in which SC has issued notice. Ravi Kant Advocate said that women in prostitution are a separate class. This group is one of the worst sufferers of violation of Human Rights. For the state they don’t exist. The government needs to provide special workable schemes in order to ensure that they are brought to the mainstream.
Assessment of the Programme and Possible Interventions:
The meeting organized with the FSWs had a positive outcome in the way the FSWs participated and voiced out their problems, views and opinions regarding their vulnerability, empowerment, development and rehabilitation. In this regard, some very enthusiastic and grand points of interventions came into light. So the outcome of the meeting can be assessed as:-
- Special schemes are to be prepared for the women in prostitution, keeping in mind their needs and situation and they should be empowered accordingly.
- Everyone has failed the aspirations of the women in prostitution, be it the System, Society, Police and the Constitution.
- A regulated scheme for their rehabilitation is needed.
- Empower them through entrepreneurship.
- proper and effective Support System should be made to channelize their voice and plight and empower them invariably.
- If there is a situation and condition as such that the women in prostitution are provided alternative employment opportunities with proper rehabilitation facilities, they are ready to come out of their trade and lead a normal life with their families and children.
- SC directs govt to rehabilitate prostitutes (equalityindia.wordpress.com)
- Boyd Law Students Study Human Rights in India (shaktivahini.wordpress.com)
- Workshop on Child Protection and Violence Against Women Held at Faridabad in Collaboration With Police Department (shaktivahini.wordpress.com)
- Sex workers entitled to a life of dignity: Supreme Court (hindu.com)