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Conditions of Sex Workers in India

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Menorca Chaturvedi:

Poverty, discrimination, hopelessness, lack of knowledge, disrespect, and HIV- closely revolving around the life of a sex worker, these terms give us a deep insight into the prevalent status of sex workers in India. Current Indian laws attempt to hide prostitution from the public, while allowing them to practice it privately. “Practicing in private” sounds too strange? Do they enter this profession by choice? Do they get to avail general rights, just like any other working citizen of our country?

Well, you would rarely come across any woman who has taken up this profession by choice. Lack of employment, the realization of being unwanted at home, the hopelessness often force them to take such a drastic step. While some might have been sold into this trade by their husbands, or fathers, others might have been born into it, thus having no other option.

Most of these women neither have any hope nor do they have any knowledge about their rights to basic living. Even if they are rescued, they have no place to hide, for they are unwanted at home. Struggling for existence, sacrificing their dreams, self respect, their families, all for the need of money, a major segment of these workers are not even aware of the impending danger of HIV that they are exposed to. The multitudes of workers represent a threat that cannot even be imagined because the danger is multiplied due to mass ignorance about the disease, in both the trade and the clientele. While Mumbai and Kolkata are said to be the biggest centres of this trade, over 50% of the sex workers in Mumbai have been found to be HIV positive.

The extremities that the sex workers undergo, and the brutal violence by the Police is probably not known to all. While harassment and violence are the key words in their sufferings, if they are ever arrested by the Police, they are simply forced to submit to the policemen’s demands, or bribe their way through. Young girls seem to be the most vulnerable in this act.

Even after working to earn their living, just like any other citizen, and toiling their way through, why should they not get their basic rights and recognition in the country?

Giving a voice to these issues, and uniting them all for demanding their rights, certain organizations have come up with AIDS education programs and vocational training classes. One such project aimed at educating women about AIDS is the ASHA. Comprising of sex workers, who go into the brothels as peer educators, they strive to bring a change in the society. The model AIDS prevention group in the country is the Sonagachi Project. Working with males as well as females, this project has made a tremendous impact on the lives of thousands of sex workers, some of whom have been rescued, and given a new lease of life.

In fact, the BBC reports that sex workers in southern India have responded to abuse and mistreatment by taking up a new skill: karate. There are reportedly nearly 3 million sex workers in India. The women say they were so fed up with abuse that they approached a local community group for help.

The organizers hope the course in the ancient self-defence technique sends a message that violence against sex workers must stop.

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  1. ArUn ShArMa

    Hi Menoca, nice write-up and very important issue. You have pointed out some very pertinent points of lack of sex-education among the sex-workers in India. But I don't agree with you that they have been dragged into this profession by force due to poverty and all, because by that measure, every poor family should send their girls to the brothels and boys to the gangs.
    But nevertheless, they are not regarded as respectable part of the society which should be changed. And to change that, our law needs to change that doesn't recognise prostitution as a profession. Today, every other city has the "Escort Service" which is essentially a high-end prostitution service in which college girls are being dragged. Now you cannot call this a forceful entry, it's perfectly by choice. So, when the girls themselves are willing to enter such profession, they should be legally be allowed to join rather than creating an underground mafia.

  2. Menorca Chaturvedi

    Thanks for your comment and info, Arun. Sorry for the late reply. I am aware of the fact that some girls enter this profession out of their own will. But, this must be due to the desire of earning extra money. So, in one way, or the other, money rules the show. If only some other opportunities could be provided to the numerous sex workers, I’m sure that the number would definitely go down.

  3. Shruthi Venukumar

    Even if we take into account elite escort services which is attractive to a section of girls (even the so-called decent middle-class college girls), one must remember that the number of street hookers far exceeds elite escorts. The multitudes of women in prostitution just to make both ends meet is definitely much more than escorts and the latter are the ones who face blatant exploitation and abuse. Laws should be made to emancipate the downtrodden ones. The presence of a rosy minority should not lead to the issue being brushed under the carpet.

  4. kanchi

    thank you so much for this important message, i agree on you have said.

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