Pune-based NGO Saheli Backs NHRC For Recognising ‘Sex Workers’ As Informal Workers Amid Backlash From Other NGOs

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Mehab Qureshi

Pune, October 20, 2020: The National Human Right Commission (NHRC) has recognized sex workers as informal workers in their recently issued advisory on “Human Rights of Women in the context of COVID 19”. However, the decision by the NHRC has been backlashed by various NGOs, asking NHRC to withdraw this part of the advisory.

Sex workers at Budhwar Peth have been celebrating as soon as the decision arrived, but now they’ve been overwhelmed by the statement given by Ms Sunitha Krishnan and her organization, Prajwala and NGO Shakti Vahini as well.

“The Constitution of India emphasizes very strongly about women’s equality, dignity and safety and makes it ultra vires for any state to adopt laws or policies that enable exploiters, such as pimps and sex buyers to operate freely. We believe that the NHRC directive while terming commercial sexual exploitation of women as work is a violation of various provisions so strongly enshrined in our constitution. We appeal to the Honorable NHRC advisory to kindly revise the well-intentioned advisory”, said Ravikant, president of NGO Shakti Vahini.

This statement has caused outrage amongst the National Network of Sex Workers (NNSW). “It is deeply disturbing to see this damaging letter. This letter is a direct attack on the rights of vulnerable communities like sex workers in the context of COVID 19, the biggest pandemic of our times. These objections are myopic, moralistic, and violative of sex workers’ rights”, said a statement released by NNSW.

Sharing her thoughts on this, Tejaswi Sevekari, director of city-based NGO Saheli which is working for the betterment of sex workers, said, “This was not expected from the top NGOs, this is the time to celebrate because years of the fight altogether has gained us some benefit. Yes, we are against trafficking, but ‘sex work’ is a profession just like any other work, and this is a fight for their dignity.”

“We have finally got the recognition, as informal workers. Everyone has started treating us with respect. We work for our family members, we are not committing a crime”, said Rani, a sex worker.

Vanita, said, “We provide services as sex workers, and it is now recognised as a profession. Like any other commoners, we work to earn and provide for our families. We will fight so that we take our rights.”

“Organisations such as Prajwala that are working for “rehabilitation” are at liberty to provide alternative livelihood choices for women who are living and working in multiple exploitative conditions including those who might have been forced into sex work, but these cannot be coercive”, responded the feminists to Ms Sunitha Krishnan’s letters.