Sex workers entitled to a life of dignity: Supreme Court

February 14, 2011 11:59 pm | Updated 11:59 pm IST - New Delhi:

The Supreme Court on Monday directed the Centre and the States to prepare schemes for rehabilitation of physically and sexually abused women all over the country.

A Bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra, in its order, said: “We are of the view that prostitutes also have a right to live with dignity under Article 21 [right to life] of the Constitution since they are also human beings and their problems also need to be addressed.”

The Bench said: “A woman is compelled to indulge in prostitution not for pleasure but because of abject poverty. If such a woman is granted an opportunity to avail herself of some technical or vocational training, she would be able to earn her livelihood by such vocational training and skill instead of by selling her body.”

The Bench said: Society must have sympathy towards the sex workers and must not look down upon them. They are also entitled to a life of dignity in view of Article 21.”

The Bench therefore directed the Central and State governments to prepare schemes for giving technical/vocational training to sex workers and sexually abused women in all cities. “The schemes should mention in detail who will give technical/vocational training and in what manner they can be rehabilitated and settled by offering them employment. For instance, if technical training is for some craft like sewing garments, then some arrangements should also be made for providing a market for such garments; otherwise, they will remain unsold and unused and consequently the women will not be able to feed themselves.”

The Bench was dismissing an appeal filed by Budhadev Karmaskar against a Calcutta High Court judgment upholding life imprisonment awarded by a trial court for the murder of a sex worker, Chayay Rani Pal, in a red light area in Kolkata in September 1999.

Declining to interfere with the High Court judgment said, it said: “This is a case of brutal murder of a sex worker. Sex workers are also human beings and no one has a right to assault or murder them.”

The Bench said: “In novels and stories of the great Bengali writer Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyaya, many prostitutes have been shown to be women of very high character, e.g., Rajyalakshmi in Shrikant and Chandramukhi in Devdas . The plight of prostitutes has been depicted by the great Urdu poet Sahir Ludhianvi in his poem ‘Chakle', which has been sung in the Hindi film Pyasa — ‘Jineh Naaz Hai Hind Per Wo Kahan Hain' (simplified version of ‘Sana Khwan-e-taqdees-e-Mashrik Kahan Hain').”

The Bench, issuing notice to the Centre and the States, directed them to file their response by May 4, when the matter will be taken up again for further directions.

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