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)
Shopping at the mall, dinner, a long drive — a beautiful date, but nothing more. After all, condom nahin toh kuch nahin. For the first time, the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) has tried to address the growing concern of premarital sex with its latest advertisement campaign to promote condom usage.The new campaign, launched on January 28, has been produced by BBC World Service Trust. NACO has spent a whopping Rs 7 crore to book air time on radio and TV channels for a month. The advertisements will be on air till February 28.
The radio advertisement features a post-date conversation between two girls. While one girl tells the other about her date — shopping, dinner and long drive — the other asks her what happened afterwards. To which the first girl replies: “Kuch nahin. Condom nahin toh kuch nahin.”However, the TV advertisement, which will be aired at prime time, is more conventional, sticking to the marital sex formula.
In the past, NACO has always used advertisements which only refer to marital sex. “It is refreshing to see an advertisement which is minus the usual markers like mangalsutra or wedding ring or a sari-clad women. The advertisement is in keeping with the times, and encourages the youth to be careful. It is a bold move on NACO’s part. Premarital sex is a growing concern and needs to be highlighted, but the message is for the urban youth,” said Rishikant, an HIV/AIDS activist working for Shakti Vahini, an NGO focussing on promoting awareness amongst commercial sex workers.
But authorities at the Health Ministry maintained that the campaign does not refer to premarital sex. “We have been trying to normalise condom usage. Our key concerns are avoiding unwanted pregnancies and Sexually Transmitted Diseases among the high-risk population. There is no mention of premarital sex,” said Mayank Agarwal, Joint Director in charge of NACO’s condom promotion campaign.
“The campaign is based on research which points to low-risk perception among people, which is the leading cause of few people choosing to use condoms. The entire idea is to promote information about safe sex without getting dragged into a morality debate. The focus is on providing information so that people can choose to have safe sex,” said Priyanka Dutt, project manager, BBC World Service Trust.The advertisement marks the latest phase in the three-year mass media campaign to make condom use more socially acceptable. It was preceded by the internationally acclaimed “condom ring tone” campaign.
Source: The Sangai Express
Imphal, January 28 2010: Even as chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Children Rights has rushed to Kanyakumari to monitor the situation, Shakti Vahini, an NGO, and various other organizations have demanded of the Centre to conduct a CBI inquiry into the incident of rescue of 76 Assam and Manipur children from an unregistered children’s home in Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu on January 25
National Commission for Protection of Children Rights chairperson Shanta Sinha rushed to Kanyakumari yesterday morning to monitor the situation. The 76 children were rescued from a home at Kulitorai in Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari district. All the children are boys in the 10-14-year age group. Prabhakaran, a member of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) that rescued the children, said that the boys were forced to live in an appalling condition. This is the second time that the CWC has rescued trafficked children from the Northeast in Tamil Nadu, he said. According to sources, the 76 children were rescued from an unregistered orphanage called Bedesta Blessing Home located in Kanyakumari.
The sources further disclosed that Bedesta Blessing Home lacked both infrastructure and enough food to feed the children, and the crackdown on the home was conducted by members of the CWC of Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu. Fifty-four of the 76 children are from Manipur and the rest are from Assam, the sources said, adding that the children had been staying at the Home since July 2009 . Shakti Vahini, Bikalpa Dhara and other organizations have urged the Union Home Minister to ask the CBI to investigate the matter. In a letter to the Minister, Shakti Vahini president Ravi Kant said: “These are very disturbing trends.
Trafficking from the Northeast and eastern Himalayan region is on the rise and it needs a detailed investigation. We are enclosing all the reports… these reports may be the tip of the iceberg and there are all possibilities that organized gangs have started operating in the area to traffick women and children. We seek a detailed inquiry into these reports and cases of trafficking by the CBI” .
Chinki Sinha , Indian Express
New Delhi , January 23, 2010
She stood in the window, her bleached streaked hair arresting the rays of the setting sun in its messed coiffure, and looked down at the street. There were pimps pacing up and down the corridors, smoking, and haggling for a higher rate for her body, there were women with bulging stomachs, wrinkled noses, at an age where a man’s face sort of empties as they met their gaze, and then there were pretty young things who stood in similar windows anticipating, and preying.
At Garstin Bastion Road, or Swami Shradhanand Marg, the name given to the famous red light district in city’s capital in 1965, the around 1,000 prostitutes were getting ready for business, a few hours before the auto parts shops lining the street downed their shutters. Then, it would be their domain, and only customers looking for their favorites would saunter in, gaze in the windows, up the narrow, dingy staircases and counted their money, deciding the limits of their bargain.
The girl, her cheap silver earrings dangling from her ears, and her lips painted loud pink, was searching, scanning the streets till her eyes rested on a young man, who wore a triped shirt, and jeans that had too many zip pockets, and sported longish hair, streaked like hers.
And he looked back at her from where he was standing, squeezed between cars, a little nala behind him, and started to sing, pausing to address her, and blow millions kisses her way.He called her Preeti.Preeti only smiled, and turned away, then looked at him again.
That’s love and longing at GB Road where according to those who live and work there in closet size rooms, where smell of sweat and flesh linger in the doorways, love is what they can’t let in. Because that corrupts, they said.As we waited for Charsi Bai, one of the kotha malkeens, we looked up, dissecting the smell and all, at the landing of the staircase. A woman looked down at us. We were intruders, and we didn’t come looking for what they were offering.She disappeared in the maze of rooms inside, and another one stuck her head outside. Her eyes, pumped with cheap mascara, and her eyelids smeared with bright bronze shadow, looked past us, tumbled upon the streets. At that hour, there weren’t many buyers around.
Because it is illegal to solicit, the women never came out. Their pimps, and there were plenty of them – young boys from Bihar , old paunchy men who chewed betel leaves and spat everywhere, moved around, eyeing the passersby.
One woman stood at the landing. She was annoyed. The business in GB Road is not booming anymore. The rates range from Rs. 100 to Rs. 500, but then the usual customers, the rickshaw pullers, the students, couldn’t pay them a ton.
Recession and its after effects – the beautiful up market prostitutes from Russia , Dubai and other countries – are on sale, too. Why spend on us – smelly, irritable, with no sophistication and always clamoring for a tip – when you can save and get the best, she said. There are girls from Andhra Pradesh, who were rounded up by the state police and dragged and put in a van and deported to their villages last year and have come back since, there are the fair women from Nepal who are modern, wear fashionable clothes, and there are the Rajasthanis.
According to Suraj Singh, who has worked in one of the hundreds of shops that function in the 20 buildings of GB Road for 27 years, the place has remained unchanged. The women maintain their distance and shop owners respect them. “They call us “bhaiya” and we don’t have any problems with them ever. But it is sad to see them being exploited sometimes,” he said. “The day the Andhra Police came and dragged 179 of those girls out, we felt bad. They had children with them, they were crying but they just put them in a van and drove away. Some people come and sell their wives and you hear the commotion, and the wailing. It’s sad.”
In one of the kothas, in what looked like a small reception area, more than a dozen women were waiting for their turn. The young ones, with their plunging necklines, and fluttering eyelashes, ran to the landing, whispering, adjusting their hair. This was their moment. They had to make the most of their youth before diseases claimed them. It will be a while before they paid off their debts to the naikas, the women who purchased them. The air was abuzz with anticipation, and competition.
A middle-aged woman, with thick glasses, wrapped in a shawl, was waiting, too. Once, when she was in her prime, she had her lovers, her loyal customers, too.“My life is spent now. All over the years I did the same thing. There’s no respite,” she said.There were other women, too, who huddled under the parapets of the old buildings, begging. Their days are over. They were members of the kothas, then became housemaids to the younger queens, and then when they couldn’t do that, they descended those staircases and were out on the streets.
They won’t tell you their sad stories. There’s no time for that sort of nonsense because at the end of it, what’s the use of repeating it all.There’s no time for love because love leads nowhere or here to the brothels, Rishi Kant, an activist with Shakti Vahini, an NGO working for the sex workers’ , said. “Every girl has a love story. Puja was a girl who fell in love with her customer, a young man of 25 years. It lasted for 6-7 months and then she realized he was abusing her, drinking off her earnings,” he said.
So, love in the air is an infection they guard against. Preeti went inside. The young lover stood alone, waiting for her to reappear. Like him, many young men, college students, others, come to the infamous road in the mornings, looking up at the windows, for their imagined lovers, and wait for the evening. If they have the money, they can go in and ask for her. She can’t turn back then. Or they will stand under the window, singing songs, and live under their lover’s glances.