Address proof norm relaxed; card will include names of the woman and her children

The Maharashtra government on Monday distributed ration cards among 50 commercial sex workers from Mumbai's red-light district Kamathipura, kick-starting a drive for the whole of the State.

“We would be treating victims of commercial sexual exploitation as a special category,” said Food and Civil Supplies Minister Anil Deshmukh.

“It is very difficult for these women to obtain ration cards as you need address proof such as a letter from the landlord. Owing to the nature of their profession, no landlord is willing to vouch for them. Therefore, we have relaxed this norm. Ration officials will be visiting their places of stay to verify if they are staying and cooking there. On that basis they would be allotting ration cards. We will set up camps in [red-light] colonies to implement the drive,” Mr. Deshmukh said.

The cards will include the names of the woman concerned and her children. Mr. Deshmukh said the profession would not be listed on the ration card. The orange cards would entitle women to 10 kg of wheat at Rs.7.60, 5 kg of rice at Rs.9.20, one litre of palm oil and around two to three litres of kerosene.

Referring to the recent Supreme Court order to provide ration cards to sex workers, Mr. Deshmukh said Maharashtra had decided to implement it even before the apex court's directions.

Happy with her possession, Salma Shinde (name changed) said she and her daughter would definitely be benefited by the card. “We need 15 kg of wheat a month. We have been buying kerosene at Rs.80 a litre. A lot of it is sold in black.”

Many found that their children's names were missing on the cards, and were told to get it rectified at the ration office. Those with errors on their cards were told to visit the ration office to get them rectified.

Some went home disappointed. “We applied for a ration card a year ago and we still have not got it. Those who applied afterwards got it,” complained one woman.

Mr. Deshmukh said that all the anomalies would be removed and every commercial sex worker would get a ration card.

Crucial document

Priti Patkar of Prerana, an NGO for sex workers, said the ration card was a crucial document for women to endorse their existence and for the education of their children. “You need it even to open a bank account,” Ms. Patkar said.

Orphaned children of sex workers constituted another area of concern.

Referring to the Government of India National Plan of Action, 1998, which states that the words “prostitution” and “prostitute” have derogatory connotations, a press release issued on the occasion proposed the phrase: “commercial sexual exploitation of women and children”.

Ironically, however, the release ended on a politically incorrect note, stating in last paragraph: “In the first phase of implementation, Mr. Deshmukh will issue ration cards to 50 prostituted women,” in addition to referring to Prerana, an NGO working for Women's issues, as an organisation working for the welfare of “prostituted women”.