BENGALURU: A report based on a public hearing conducted by Justice H N Nagmohandas, a retired judge, on March 5, 2019 was released by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Sadhana Mahila Sangha, Janasahayog, Alternative Law Forum and Centre for Information Education Development Studies at a press conference held at Press Club. The report highlighted the violence inflicted on sex workers, including women and transgenders, at the hands of the police.
“The police are supposed to protect people but are instead the ones harassing them. They beat up sex workers thinking it is their constitutional duty when in fact it is just moral policing. Even if these women are not indulging in sex work at the moment and are just walking on the road or waiting to board a bus, they humiliate them in public, beat them up, drag them by their hair to the police station, and abuse them further, at times sexually. Their phones are taken away and they are made to stay there the whole day without reason,” said Y J Rajendra, state president of PUCL-Karnataka.
The NGOs specifically called out vigilante forces such as Obavva Pade, for harassing sex workers and violating their rights. They said that sex workers are made to pay ‘fines’ without receipts, just to be let off from the station or get their belongings back. “Former DCP West Ravi D Channannavar started this group on the pretext of keeping the streets of Majestic ‘clean’. He and his officers are not sensitised to sex work and consider it dirty or criminalised,” an activist said.
Manjula, from Sadhana Mahila Sangha, said,” A few years ago Upparpet police would take sex workers against their will and dump them in a destitute home for women and orphans run by Auto Raja, or in the beggar’s colony. They would use abusive language and threaten to tell their families about the nature of their work.” About 550 cases were filed against sex workers between 2004 to 2008, as found by the Jayamala committee report in Karnataka, and these could not be held up in court as they were false.
A sex worker shared her plight. A single mother of three, she tried working as a maid or in the garment factory but found the money was not sufficient to meet her family’s financial needs. Regarding the abuse she faced at the hands of the police as a sex worker, she said, “The police beat me and humiliate me in public. Don’t I have the right to put food on my child’s plate? I have stopped frequenting the bus stand and catching a bus in the last six months. I have not been able to pay my home rent for three months or pay for my children’s school fees.”
Recommendations in the current public hearing report includes disbanding Obavva Pade and repealing Immoral Trafficking in Persons Act. The report also demands to comprise a committee including station house officers, human rights activists to investigate reports of gross abuses against sex workers and punish guilty policemen. The report has not received any response from the state government, which is why the NGOs will now be approaching the State Human Rights Commission. If the report is not implemented even then, they will file a Public Interest Litigation.