Tripti Tandon, advocate for the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee and Usha Cooperative, which are parties fighting for the rights of sex workers, stated on Thursday that a Supreme Court order on May 19 “does not recognise or have the effect of recognising sex work as a ‘profession’”.
Ms. Tandon said the court's order “states that sex workers, who are otherwise despised and stigmatised by society, must be treated with full respect for their dignity and humanity, as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution”.
The court in its May 19 order, as reported in The Hindu, had highlighted “that notwithstanding the profession, every individual in this country has a right to a dignified life under Article 21. The constitutional protection that is given to all individuals in this country shall be kept in mind by the authorities who have a duty under Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956”.
In a statement, Ms. Tandon clarified that, following the Union’s reservations, the court had agreed to take up, along with the other suggestions of a panel, the recommendation for the “police not to interfere or take criminal action in case of adult, consensual sex work” in July, after the government submitted its response.
Another panel recommendation the Centre had a reservation about was “whenever there is a raid on any brothel, since voluntary sex work is not illegal and only running the brothel is unlawful, the sex workers concerned should not be arrested or penalised or harassed or victimised”.
Survey of protective homes
While waiting for the Centre’s response on this particular panel recommendation, the court has nevertheless called for the strict implementation of the panel’s suggestion that the “police should treat all sex workers with dignity and should not abuse them, both verbally and physically, subject them to violence or coerce them into any sexual activity”. Further, the court has ordered a survey of protective homes under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act to review cases of women “detained against their will” and process their release in a time-bound manner.
“The court has directed that the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, which is often used to harass, mistreat or victimise sex workers, must be enforced strictly i.e. with the procedural safeguards and timelines provided therein and in full conformity with Article 21 i.e. protection of the right to life and liberty and respect for the person's dignity,” Ms. Tandon said.