Sex workers ask Maneka Gandhi: Aren’t we women, madam?

July 27, 2018 08:15 pm | Updated 08:15 pm IST

NEW DELHI: A national coalition of sex workers has hit out at Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi for belittling them during a discussion in Parliament on anti-human trafficking Bill.

The National Network of Sex Workers (NNSW) said in a statement that the Union Minister’s snide remarks reinforced stigma faced by sex workers in society.

The body was referring to Ms Gandhi’s reply in Parliament after a discussion on the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, on Thursday when she said sarcastically, “I am going to be wicked….During the consultation on the Bill, we received comments from two groups – one representing the victims and the other representing sex workers. Dr. Tharoor represents the second group.” The minister had a smirk on her face and her comments were followed by laughter in the House.

“Sex workers are not a source of entertainment or snide laughter for MPs, but workers who earn so that their families have a chance at an equitable life, like all citizens of this country. Do we not have the right to be heard by Ministers, Governments and Members of Parliament? Are we according to you so reprehensible that it is okay to make us the butt of your humour at the cost of dignity? Are we not women, Madam Minister?,” the NNSW said in its statement.

The statement was issued on behalf of 20 sex workers’ unions and NGOs across the country. They said that they had highlighted their grievances over the proposed Bill and handed over concerns of over 250 activists to the Minister, yet these had not been addressed.

The Lok Sabha passed the anti-human trafficking Bill on Thursday without any amendments and the Bill will now be taken up in Rajya Sabha.

Sex workers, lawyers and women’s rights activists have highlighted that the Bill doesn’t distinguish between victims of trafficking and adult persons voluntarily in sex work. Sex workers also fear that the punishment for keeping premises “intended” to be used as a place of exploitation as laid down in the Bill may be misused to harass them.

They have also demanded that rehabilitation for victims of trafficking should not be forceful and the law should follow recommendations of an SC-appointed committee that said that the State should recognise basic human rights and the right to live with dignity for those who may want to remain in the trade.

The Bill lays down a stringent punishment of 10 years to life imprisonment for aggravated offences, which include trafficking for begging, child-bearing as well as those that lead to administration of hormones for early sexual maturity and cause life-threatening diseases such as AIDS.

It also provides for imprisonment for the remainder of a person’s life where s/he has been convicted of committing an offence of trafficking more than once.

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