‘Our effort is to educate the public and inform them that sex workers are not bad persons'

The Supreme Court on Tuesday expressed dissatisfaction with the steps taken by the States for the rehabilitation of sex workers and directed them to come out with proper schemes for providing them with alternative employment.

In February, a Bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra directed the Centre and the States to prepare a scheme for the rehabilitation of sex workers, and sought their response.

Subsequently, it ordered a survey of sex workers, initially in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai, for their rehabilitation.

The Bench appointed a panel comprising senior counsel Pradip Ghosh, who will be its chairman; senior counsel Jayant Bhushan; the Usha Multipurpose Co-operative Society; the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee; and founder and CEO of Roshni (academy for underprivileged girls) Saima Hasan to assist the court in giving suitable directions.

The Bench said the panel should go into aspects of prevention of trafficking, the rehabilitation of sex workers who wished to leave sex work, and conditions conducive for sex workers who wished to continue working as sex workers with dignity.

During the resumed hearing on Tuesday, the panel submitted its interim report and sought directions to the Central and State governments to make available necessary funds for holding workshops/meetings to be attended by experts, resource persons, etc.

The Court, after hearing counsel, directed the Central and State governments to provide funds as sought by the panel. It said, “We again reiterate the exercise, because we are of the opinion that sex workers are also human beings and hence they are entitled to a life of dignity. And sex workers obviously cannot lead a life of dignity as long as they remain as sex workers.”

The Bench noted: “a woman becomes a sex worker not because she enjoys it but due to abject poverty. One estimate suggests that there are three million sex workers in India, many even from Nepal, Bangladesh and even the former Soviet Union. This is due to massive poverty in the country and abroad.”

‘Unfortunate girls’

The Judges said: “Our effort in this exercise is to educate the public and inform them that sex workers are not bad persons, but they are unfortunate girls, who have been forced to go into this flesh trade due to terrible poverty. Hence society should not look down upon them, but should have sympathy with them. We are of the opinion that if sex workers are given proper technical training they will be able to come out of sex work and instead earn their livelihood through technical skills instead of by selling their bodies. That will enable them to live a life of dignity.”

“We are not satisfied with the affidavit filed by the States. We are of the opinion that the States should not only come out with schemes indicating rehabilitation of sex workers but they should demonstrate their commitment to the cause by coming out with some concrete results, at least in phases.”

Reacting to the order, Ms. Hasan said: “I am honoured that I have been appointed to the panel by the Supreme Court to represent ‘Roshni.' Since 2008, ‘Roshni' has been training impoverished young girls and women to become economically self-sufficient.

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