Do Commercial Sex Workers Have Basic Human Rights In India?

Posted on March 31, 2014 in Sex Work, Society, Taboos

By Harish Iyer:

I recently attended an event organized by Operation Black Dot that organizes events that help the youth engage in a dialogue with their candidates. This was my first interface with Priya Dutt, where I was not a panellist but an audience with the youth of Bandra in Mumbai. I posed a question about her personal views on Section 377 and her understanding and views on the introduction Gender and Sexuality education in educational institutions. I was amazed at the response. She openly said it was no one’s business to interfere on what consenting adults indulge in. She also supported the fact that Sex and Sexuality education is the need of the hour and it needs to be introduced. She went a step further to say that our attitude needs to change, and even commercial sex work should be legalized in her opinion. It was positively shocking to hear someone speak about an issue so tabooed, so openly. I was indeed impressed by her, but I would also like to say without any intention of belittling her noble thoughts that I was also upset that despite 10 years of tenure, the congress hasn’t been able to introduce mandatory sex and sexuality education.

sex workers

Commercial sex workers are a part of the same society we live in. Yet they get no voting rights, no right to dignity, they are ostracized by the society – even though many of the members of the so called “decent society” are the ones who queue up as “customers”.

We keep complaining about illegal human trafficking and sex slavery in this “industry”. If we don’t legalize them and issue licenses, how are we to penetrate into this industry and keep a tab on illegal trafficking? How can we keep a check on their health? How are we to keep a tab on HIV?

We continue to criminalize these sex workers who get rounded up again and again…how many times have you heard of the customers being rounded up? You all want to get rid of prostitution? Tell me you holier than thou people, how many of you all would give jobs to the women who were waiting at the traffic signal for their customers? You all want to be divine in your blessings and views, but it takes real courage to stand up with them and accept them and their choice of work, provided they do it with 100% consent.

I am sure you want to get the society free of sex workers, and want them to be thrown into some isolated island that you could call – “rehab”. You want them to do real jobs — like what? Is ‘begging’ a ‘real’ job? You continue to treat them in dastardly ways and call them the bastards that plague our society. (Yes, pinch yourself, I am speaking about you). How many of you will give commercial sex worker, a job? Or let’s say, many of you who have a bleeding heart that has a lot of concern for the women who work in sex trade and wish to offer them alternate jobs. But, what would those jobs be? Would you rather have them and their daughters and sons give your daughters and sons competition in their class? Or would you prefer them to come home two times a day and wash utensils? Ask yourself!

Well, if you are so concerned, give them their space, their voice, their right as equals — not as a “cause” you support, but as human beings who deserve the equal share of the sun.

Yes I know that sometimes truth is so hard that it hurts, I am glad if it did. If you believe that rights of commercial sex workers are human rights and the right to trade their body is their own and no one else’s, let’s begin by legalizing commercial sex work. If we wish to live in a free and equal India, we have to ensure that they have their equal rights too.

Harish IyerHarish Iyer, an Equal Rights Activist, is recognised internationally for his innovative and quirky campaigns for a wide range of causes from animal rights to human rights.  In 2013, the British daily Guardian listed as one of the 100 most influential LGBT persons in the world. Just in his early 30s, Iyer has 2 internationally acclaimed award winning films and a book inspired by his life.