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Sex workers meet hails Supreme Court's decision


C S BHATTACHARJEE | Kolkata, July 27, 2012 18:53
Tags : International AIDS Conference Hub | durbar mahila Samanwaya Committee | Usha Cooperative |

The International AIDS Conference Hub in Kolkata, termed as 'Sex Workers' Freedom Festival', on its concluding day, welcomed Supreme Court’s decision not to shunt out West Bengal-based NGO Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) and Usha Cooperative form the panel on sex workers rehabilitation and dignity.

Upholding the necessity to retain Durbar and Rs 13 crore cooperative of the sex workers ‘Usha’, the Apex Court observed that there is a need to get views from the concerned people about whom the committee is formed. While dealing with a murder case of a sex worker, Supreme Court constituted a committee of senior lawyers, NGOs and Government officials on July 19 last year to suggest measures to end the menace and rehabilitate sex workers.

The objection was brought by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, as that these two organizations openly advocated for the rights of sex workers. The Ministry alleged that Durbar is behind a case, filed at Calcutta High Court by the children of the sex workers, challenging a provision of the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act. And Durbar has also met the minister for Women and Child Welfare to pursue their stand. Additional Solicitor General P P Malhotra had earlier told the bench that any such endorsement by the apex court would go contrary to the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act which bans prostitution in total. The Centre's move, however, was opposed by amicus curiae and senior counsel Jayant Bhushan and Anand Grover, who said the ITP Act only prohibited brothel activities and punitive action against pimps, but not against individual sex workers. Finally, the Apex court rejected government’s demand to exclude DMSC and USHA.

However, Supreme Court modified one of its last year's orders on welfare and rehabilitation of sex workers to remove an impression that the order might seems to be advocating for legalization of prostitution. The special bench, constituting Justices Altamas Kabir and Justice Gyan Sudha Misra modified its earlier order, saying “the modification shall not be construed that by this order any encouragement is being given to prostitution.” The Union Ministry’s objection was about the third term, (‘conditions conducive for sex workers who wish to continue working as sex workers with dignity’), which was likely to give an impression that prostitution has been sought to be legalized. The Apex Court modified it to read as “conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution.”

Hailing the decision, the Chair of the Global Hub Dr Smarajit Jana said, “It’s a big Victory. The Apex Court understood the importance of empowering sex workers’ own organization to combat trafficking and rehabilitation of those sex workers who do not want to carry the trade. The modified order of the Supreme Court reads, “Conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution.” The Special Bench also stressed the need of rehabilitation and said that sex workers should be given opportunity to avail rehabilitation measures of the government and other agencies for them.

As the news reached International AIDS Conference hub venue in Kolkata, there was a scene of jubilation. Foreign delegates and global leaders of the sex workers networks also hailed it terming the ‘Victory of democracy and Indian constitution.” President, Global Network of Sex Workers Projects, Andrew Hunter said, “The Supreme Court of India has reiterated that “right to live with dignity” is a Constitutional right. This would help our struggle worldwide to go a long way ahead.”

Global coordinator of NSWP Ruth Morgan also welcomed it. Salma Kartini of Malaysia said, “Durbar people have showed the guts to organize such a mammoth conference in very short time after the USA prohibited our entry. They have showed the world how the sex workers of this part are living with more dignity and social acceptability. Indian Supreme Court has honoured us by its decision. We all welcome it.”

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017