~ By Nupur Marwah, Shruti Garg
“We are an expletive; you mention us when you want to demean a woman” – (A sex worker)
The Indian Society, where a woman’s dignity is considered to be her ‘Streedhan’, is the same society where she is constantly deprived of it. Tracing down the chronology of disparaging the profession of sex work into a dishonorable, immoral and sleazy business and to label the people who practice it as unclean, highlights a deeper issue within the Indian social context. At a point in time where patriarchy has stood like a monolith, constantly devaluing the status of women in the society, it is not controversial for people to find autonomous women with the agency over their bodies, unsettling. Even though “sex work” is a politically correct term for “prostitution”, it doesn’t however, detach itself with the negative connotations affixed with it.
Bearing in mind, the amount of social outcasting and psychological trauma that the sex workers have experienced due to ignorance and lack of engagement from the side of the government as well as the dearth of positive discourse around sex work in mainstream media has enabled a culture of stigmatization and ostracism of the people within the profession.
As much as it is important to work towards changing the societal perspective around prostitution and normalizing it as any other profession, it is also vital to be cognizant of the multitude of reasons owing to which women are manhandled into the profession. While some women opt for sex work as a voluntary choice, some resort to it due to economic setbacks and cultural obligations, a majority of others are forcefully trafficked into it. In what becomes an inescapable circumstance for these people, the least we can do as a society in the form of reparation is to address the various vulnerabilities they are exposed to every day. Many sex workers are forced into unsafe work environments, subverting their access to education, healthcare, and increasing their vulnerability to violence, abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases.
The ball of social change is set in motion by legal reforms as it is the most substantial instrument for bettermost socialization. It is much important to identify and overcome the loopholes that exist in the Indian Judicial System, the most prominent example is the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956— the Constitution of India validates the act of prostitution, but the act of owning or managing brothels is still implicitly illegal. Similar is the case with male and non-cisgender prostitution as it remains unrepresented in the Constitution or the Indian Penal Code. While legal reforms are a time taking process, what we can do in our capacities is to call for collaboration between Governmental organizations as well as NGOs to make formal education available to survivors who are still within the school-going age and make non-formal education accessible to adults while providing gender-sensitive, market-driven vocational training to all those rescued who do not wish to pursue education. Awareness generation and legal literacy on economic rights, particularly for women and adolescent girls as well as the positive discourse around the sex industry must be facilitated. Adequate notability, through print and electronic media including child lines and women, helplines about the problem of those who have been forced into prostitution alongside rehabilitation and reintegration of rescued survivors should be made more efficient. As conscious and proactive citizens, it is incumbent upon us to constantly maintain a check on the functioning of these provisions. The Judiciary also gives us the power to act and to bring about change through PILs. Crowdfunding for those in need and supporting local bodies and Non-Governmental Organizations working towards similar goals is yet another way to contribute in this struggle to provide the rightful agency to women.