Illegal raids by Pune police rob sex workers of customers, says report

Out of work: The raids were conducted in Budhwar Peth, the third-largest red light area in the country.   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

Alleged illegal crackdowns by the Pune police in Budhwar Peth between January and April have resulted in the loss of customers for commercial sex workers (CSWs) in the red light area, according to a fact-finding report released on Wednesday.

A number of women’s groups have condemned the unjustified police raids based on the findings of the report, complied by NGO Saheli Sangh and Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal (MASUM). The groups have demanded an amendment to the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act to ensure that CSWs live without the fear of harassment and intimidation. The raids were allegedly conducted based on tip-offs from minors and Bangladeshi women forced into prostitution.

‘Misuse of law’

Tejaswi Sevehari, director of Saheli Sangh, said, “Though the police conducted a series of raids, we found that no minor or Bangladeshi woman was rescued from Budhwar Peth, the third-largest red light area in the country. This is a gross misuse of the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act, 1956, and must be rectified to ensure that CSWs live without the fear of harassment, criminalisation and intimidation.”

The report has observed that since January, the police have been collecting identity and address proofs from CSWs. The sex workers, however, reported their inability to secure Aadhaar or ration cards owing to lack of residency proof. The report said an Aadhaar drive was conducted in the area, but CSWs could not secure the cards owing to the lack of Aadhar enrollment machines in the district.

In January, the police conducted a major combing operation in the area and detained all men: be it customers, residents or passers-by. The report said, “Many customers were forcefully filmed and photographed. The videos were then posted online. This has reportedly resulted in the loss of customers, severely affecting the economic conditions of the workers.” The report also observes that introduction of demonetisation and GST reduced the income of CSMs and the raids dealt a massive blow to their livelihoods. Ms. Sevehari said, “Many sex workers were arbitrarily booked under Sections 110 and 117 of the Bombay Police Act and had to face verbal and physical abuse during the crackdown. The police claim that the raids were conducted to rescue minors and Bangladeshi sex workers, but most women rescued and sent to shelters were Indian women.”

‘Protect human rights’

Dr. Manisha Gupte, founder and co-convener of MASUM, said it is important that the human rights of CSMs are not trampled on and their dignity and security are not compromised. The women’s groups said there has been a decline in the raids since the start of the Lok Sabha elections. The police are yet to release their findings and the number of women rescued during the raids.

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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 6:34:15 PM |

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