The Condition of Sex Workers in India

In recent feminist discourse, there has been a surge of conversation around openly talking about sex, sexual orientation, engagements, etc. This is, of course, a step in the right direction. But one sphere that is often overlooked is in fact one of the most important ones to include in such conversations: the condition of sex workers.

SEX WORKERS IN INDIA: AN OVERVIEW

Sex workers are those who engage in sexual services as part of contractual arrangements. Though these arrangements are supposed to be consensual as well as between adults, the reality of the situation is often not so. It is thus imperative to first be informed on the condition of sex workers in India so that one can then work towards bringing about change to help them.

There are over 800,000 sex workers in India though it is suspected that the actual numbers are far higher than this. Prostitution is legal in India but there are many technicalities related to this legality. For one, a lot of acts related to prostitution are illegal like running a brothel. The primary law that deals with the status of sex workers is The Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girls Act (SITA) of 1956. This law states that sex workers can practice their trade privately but they cannot legally solicit customers in public.

THE CONDITION OF THE LAW

This law in particular complicates what exactly is prostitution in India and what part of it is illegal. While organized prostitution is illegal (like brothels, pimping, prostitution rings etc.), if a woman voluntarily offers sexual services in exchange for monetary/any other benefit- as long as it is not near a public place- it does not come under any sort of legal or labour framework. It is almost as if these activities happen outside the purview of the law which leads to added vulnerability of these sex workers.

There have been some advancements from the government to acknowledge and protect sex workers but these are by no means enough. For one, while they don’t have any labour laws protecting them, sex workers do possess the right to rescue and rehabilitation if they desire. Further, in 2011, the Supreme Court issued an order to create “conditions conducive to for sex workers to work with dignity.” This involved state governments running a census of the sex workers and implementing necessary programs for their protection.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

While it is very important to make laws to protect sex workers, it is even more important to look at the larger problem. That is, why do so many women engage in sex work in the first place. The fact of the matter is that most women do not choose this profession but are rather forced into it out of necessity. Further, they are frequently abused by their clients and harassed by their family, the community, and even the authorities. Moreover, child prostitution is rampant due to the lack of any legal protection.

It is clear that we have a long way to go in making our country a safer place for sex work and even longer way to eliminate the conditions that make these women resort to sex work in the first place. Knowing about these issues is the first step to working towards bringing in change. It is thus important to include sex workers in conversations around feminism and sex. After all, who is feminism fighting for if not one of its’ most marginalized communities?

DOING OUR PART

One of the major challenges that are faced by sex workers is gaining access to essential health and sanitation services. In lieu of this, Azah partnered with Kat Katha for their initiative to provide sanitary pads to sex workers on Delhi’s G.B. Road. They, in collaboration with several reputed NGOs supplied hygiene kits and ration to over 50 brothels and over 500 families.

At Azah, we believe it is important to #BreakTheShush over topics that are termed as taboo to talk about or disregarded altogether. We are proud to have been able to help in providing these important members of our society with the health and sanitation services they need. We hope to continue this fight for their safety and justice and hope all of you join us too!

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