Thirty sex workers of the Ganga Jamuna area of Nagpur (near Central avenue) and their children were given ‘Adhar cards’ in a campaign carried out jointly by the ‘Woman and Child Welfare Department’ of the govt. of Maharashtra and the Red Cross Society yesterday, informed Hemlata, who is in charge of the Red Cross facility in the area. The data on the rest of the women will be collected today so they can also be covered by the Adhar card schemes.
This action was carried out as an act of solidarity and support for the 1500+ women who live in this area and continue to face persecution and random acts of violence and extortion at the hands of police for the second month running now.The mood was sombre and sad after even veteran, senior politician Jambuwant Dhote had proved ineffective in opening the area.
He was their last hope. When all other politicians and administrators seemed to have turned their backs on this
diverse, multi cultural population that has inhabited the ill famed Ganga Jamuna area for decades he came to give them moral support. He promised to do many more things too – a pledge he made in the presence of a large section of the media on 5th February.
He said he and his group would soon be knocking on the doors of the High Court to bring a stay on the ruthless police raids and the ‘band’ enforced on the area causing many tenants to flee and disperse in other parts of the city – causing concern among the health workers monitoring the detection and treatment of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
“If the affected sex workers do not get timely treatment and do not follow precautions they will spread the infection among general, unsuspecting populace in the rest of the city. Here, as long as they remain restricted to a small area, we can keep a watch on them and ensure they are being treated. We can also check the new comers that migrate here from other states and ‘educate’ them about health matters. We can also check for minors being forced into prostitution and inform authorities so they can be shifted from here to remand homes. Therefore, it makes sense to not forcefully – and illegaly- evict sex workers from here” say Social workers who have been working in this area for many years and have made the empowerment of this foresaken group their main cause.
You can vouch for how dilligently they carry on their ‘service’ by how meticulously the area has been mapped, tagged and labeled in their office. They know exactly how many sex workers live here, their names, their age and even the state of their health. They are aware of how many children they have and whether they are being sent to school or not.
It is not just one organization – many of them including Service clubs like Rotary clubs work in close co ordination to make the lives of this group a little better. They especially look after the children who otherwise have no guardians.
“Wanting to abolish prostitution and re instate these women is a noble cause, but is it really possible?” Asks a social worker.
“If it did not cater to some basic needs of society they would not have existed for centuries under some label or some guise or another. It is not without reason that prostitution has been called the ‘oldest profession in the world’ ” opines a Doctor.
“We act as a pressure release but this ‘samaj’ does not want to aknowledge our role. Where do migrant workers who have no one else in the city go except this place? Send us away or lock us up and see how rapes and other crimes against women will go up” says an elderly sex worker who has since retired but continues to rent some rooms in her house for other women.
For reasons unknown, but speculations rife about their motives, Nagpur police under the instructions of a DCP have been carrying out unrelenting and brutal raids and strikes on Ganga Jamuna, its residents and the customers who venture here for the past month and a half. Caught in the cross fire are also small time shop keepers, vendors and tea and food outlets that have been carrying out their trade here since a long time too.
Nagpur Today team had carried out a detailed survey of the area and interviewed many concerned people about the situation. While doing so, we had ourselves witnessed incidents of police brutality and zealous, but smacking of lawlessness, actions like breaking into homes/ rooms and beating up ‘visitors’ they found inside. One man they fished out and cane charged till he was out of the area was fully dressed so their excuse that “undesirable things were going on” does not hold water either. (Read our reports of February 6th and 7th). We had even caught the action on camera.
Soon afterwards, on the same day, we had seen Jamuwant Dhote accompanied by other politicians belonging to parties like NCP, CPI etc. descend on the area and make speeches assuring the beleaguered inmates that they would do everything to prevent the police raids and see that the women could go on with their lives and their ‘work’.
Dhote had promised that they would immediately approach Courts and they had already finalized some ‘good lawyers’ too. If the Courts did not give relief, they would personally visit Ruling party leaders – even “gherao the CM” if need be. If this did not work either some of them would sit for ‘Dharna and Anshan’ ( hunger strike) till the problem was not solved.
Exactly a week after this re assuring meeting that promised so many things Dhote and company came back to the area and informed people that “they had had a discussion with the Police Commisioner Pathak and normalcy would soon return to the area”. Then amidst loud cheering and many thanks from the affected women locks were removed from homes that had been locked up for the last few weeks and residents driven out – often with lathis.
The good news was short lived. the very next day police were back to their ‘survellaince’ and thier intimidating ways.
Some women were picked up when they were sitting in the door ways of their house; one 40 year old woman was picked up from the tea stall where she stood drinking tea and they were herded to the chowki in the area and later taken to Lakadganj police station. The women allege that though they were not charged with any crime, they were intimidated and made to “pay up” Rs. 10,000/ each before they were allowed to go back. This action had made it abundantly clear that the embargo would continue – Dhote or no Dhote.
WHAT DOES THE INDIAN LAW SAY ABOUT PROSTITUTION?
The primary law dealing with the status of sex workers is the 1956 law referred to as the The Immoral Traffic (Suppression) Act – SITA. According to this law, prostitutes can practise their trade privately but cannot legally solicit customers in public. So clearly, Indian law does not refer to the practise of selling one’s own sexual service as “prostitution”. Clients can be punished ( only if) sexual activity is carried out in proximity to a public place or designated area.
The Immoral Traffic Prevention Act or PITA is a 1986 amendment of the legislation passed before as a result of India signing of the United Nations’ declaration on the suppression of trafficking. This amendment made more stringent provisions for punishing pimps, and outlawing brothels, it also made use of hotels for prostitution illegal. Procuring and trafficking was to be punished very severely. Brothels in the context of the law is a place where two or more sex workers live or operate from. Pimps or babus – or even lovers who live with a prostitute supposedly subsisting on her earnings are punishable.
The intentions of PITA were unmistakable. Prostitution was to be prevented and gradually abolished entirely from Society.
Many of the clauses have been challenged in the apex Court of the country and are still under consideration.