- DMSC enhances access to justice through building legal awareness among sex workers.
- To facilitate sex workers access to information through the RTI act and boost their confidence.
- To engage lawyers to provide legal support to sex workers.
- To develop bunch of paralegal counsellor from among the community members with the support of SALSA.
Since its inception, DMSC observed all kinds of human rights violations are common in the lives of people involved in sex work. In addition to physical harassment faced by the sex workers, they are the victims of discriminatory practices perpetrated by police, administration and service providers. As a result of which both sex workers and their families avoid public good healthcare services. They are subject to abuse, violence and exploitation by police and other government officials, while their children face harassment and discrimination in schools and in workplaces.
Indian law regulating sex work do not protect rights and safety of women in sex work. Not only does it take a moralistic approach, but is also vague, leaving sex workers vulnerable to abuses by police, government officials and petty criminals. The Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act (ITPA) of 1956 which seeks to prevent trafficking of persons in India and prohibits brothel operation and public solicitation. It also allows for eviction of sex workers from their residences in the name of “public interest.” While the stated purpose of the ITPA is to protect sex workers, it is more often than not used against them. The act does not specifically prohibit sex work, but law enforcement officials have continuously used it to harass sex workers. The prohibition against “public solicitation” is particularly ambiguous. On the other hand a section of Police officers known to accuse sex workers for solicitation, and they often demand bribes or free sexual services from them.
Most of the sex workers were illiterate, they were not aware of basic justice systems including the use of FIR, RTI, etc. In order to address the basic lack of knowledge regarding various legislations DMSC took an initiative to raise awareness on the act in addition to their rights and social entitlements as per the provision of government run various development program.
The other structural barrier is attached to stigmatization of sex workers what prevents women in sex work from accessing their rights. Sex workers are often reluctant to report violent incidents to the police for fear of police retribution or of being prosecuted for engaging in sex work.
WHY LEGAL INTERVENTION IS NEEDED?
- The rights to life, safety, free speech, political action and access to information and to basic health and education services are as important to sex workers as to anyone else. No one should lose these human rights because of the work they do.
- People in sex work are not only at a higher risk for violence, but they are also less likely to get protection from the police, who are seen more as a perpetrators of violence.
- In many places, sex workers are routinely insulted, harassed and assaulted by ‘madams’, ‘babus’, landlords, local pimps, money lenders, club members, local administration and others for which they hardly solicit legal intervention.
- In attempts to ‘eradicate sex workers’ a section of NGOs remove them with the use of power and put them in jail like condition in the name of rehabilitation program. Policymakers, law enforcement officials and others often overlook violation of basic human rights of sex workers.
DMSC regularly organized training programs focusing various social security schemes, Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (1956), child marriage, anti-trafficking, MGNREGS, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) and accessing legal aid through DLSA (District Legal Services Authority). DMSC also conducted training – detail of how to address violence, harassment etc. using legal provision e.g. how to file an FIR and to make best use of RTI among others.
An RTI centre has been housed in Durbar’s office to help sex workers access to information through the RTI act with a view to boost their confidence. Besides establishing RTI centre, DMSC also set up a RTI committee with proper guidance from renowned RTI activists to address various issues and problems faced by the sex workers.
Durbar also engaged a group of lawyers in order to support community members who are being harassed or evicted from their home or workplace.
These are few success stories of legal intervention
Kathi red light district is located near the main bus stand of Kanthi. In 2004, locals submitted a petition to the chairman praying to remove the brothel from there and urged him to stop sex workers for drawing attention of potential customers in and around the bus stand. The advocacy team of DMSC visited the then local MLA Mr. Sisir Adhikari and requested him to intervene in the matter as sex workers of the field lost their livelihood. Mr. Adhikari said “soliciting for profession is not a crime, if the ‘Pandas’ of Kali Temple of Kalighat solicit for more devotees doing puja from them and the bus contactors of the bus stand solicit for their potential passengers then why not the sex workers?” Following the intervention of Mr. Adhikari and successful advocacy of DMSC, the Chairman did not take any action against the sex workers of the field.
In 2008, a sex worker was killed at Santipur field of Nadia District of West Bengal, following which the local police and administration filed an FIR against the sex workers residing there. The police locked their houses forcefully and removed the sex workers from there in order to evacuate the brothel permanently. A case was filed at Santipur Court under the aegis of DMSC to protect the rights of other sex workers who were basically innocent. Later, the case was transferred from Santipur Court to Calcutta High Court where, the Honorable Court gave a verdict in favour of sex workers. After two months of struggle, the sex workers of the field were able to return to their native place and started with their profession.
- Advocacy and lobbying of DMSC is not restricted to West Bengal only; they also carry out advocacy at national level. Boha Tola – a red light area in Sitamarhi District of Bihar was burnt down when local government officials, local land grabbers conspired with villagers to eradicate 250 sex workers living there. It was reported unofficially that few families of sex workers were missing as a result of the fire. The advocacy team of DMSC visited the spot to take stock of the situation. The sex workers told horrifying tales of their ordeal and police brutality. Meanwhile, villagers and a portion of local media did not cooperate with Durbar. In this adverse circumstance, the team met with the then Rail Minister Mr. Lalu Prasad Jadav, who was not aware of the red light area at Boha Tola, and assured for all cooperation. A road block was set up. The advocacy team also met with District Magistrate and MP and submitted written complaint, similar complaints were also submitted before to Human Rights Commission of India and Women Commission of India. Following the advocacy of DMSC, the higher administration instructed local administrator to arrange tents for the sufferers. Later, the families of sex workers were able to return to their own places.
- Durga puja in Kolkata is a time for the good things of life, new clothes, holidays, great food and pandal hopping. In 2013, the sex workers of Sonagachi decided to celebrate Durga Puja in their own way. It has been a custom to mark the auspicious beginning of Durga Puja with a mound of clay collected from the doorstep of a sex worker but they were never allowed to participate in puja. Keeping this in mind, DMSC took the initiative to organize Durga Puja of their own, however the very idea was opposed by the local police station and a section of so called local people. To overcome this resistance, DMSC had to approach the Hon’ble High Court who gave an affirmative order, so that the puja could be organized within Durbar’s Health Clinic which is in the heart of Sonagachi Red Light district. The sex workers of Sonagachi started worshipping Maa Durga which they could do in the following year too. In the third year, 2015, the sex workers of Sonagachi successfully brought the puja out from their office building to the open ground organizing it in a public place. The adjacent space of the Community Hall managed by the Kolkata Corporation was utilised. In 2016, Durbar celebrated their puja in a grand way against the bureaucratic, police and public apathy towards sex workers community. The police and the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) turned down their request to set up a big Pandal, compelling them to approach the Calcutta High Court yet again and ultimately the court allowed Durbar to host puja in a bigger way, inside the red light area. This was the fourth year of their celebration.