VIJAYAWADA: In 2018, police arrested a woman named Shakeela from a brothel in Vijayawada with a customer and booked her under the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA). The police let the customer go and took her mobile phones, money and other belongings. They didn’t bring the ‘seizure’ of materials to the notice of the court and the woman lost her belongings.
Another woman, Sulochana, was caught from a hotel room in Vijayawada with a customer in the same year and the police shifted her to the police station and reportedly kept her for four days in violation of rules. Later, they produced her before the court saying that they had taken her into custody just the day before.
In 2021, a woman named Maya was arrested from her house with a customer and she was booked under the ITPA. After completion of the court process, she was shifted to a shelter home. Her lawyer allegedly charged her `50,000 to come out of the shelter home.Such harassments of sex workers by police are coming to an end with recent Supreme Court verdict that recognised prostitution as a profession.
In a significant order recognising sex work as a “profession” whose practitioners are entitled to dignity and equal protection under law, the Supreme Court on Thursday directed that police should neither interfere nor take criminal action against adult and consenting sex workers.Many organisations welcomed the landmark judgement of the Apex Court, stating that it will end exploitation of sex workers by police
Speaking to TNIE, P Rajani, vice-president of Vimukti, a State level forum of sex workers and survivors of human trafficking, said in every case related to the prostitution, the brothel house organisers would get bail in a week, but the victim will remain in shelter homes like Swadhaar and Ujjawala homes for months. This injustice came to an end with the Supreme Court order, she said.
The apex court, in its order, said sex workers should not be “arrested or penalised or harassed or victimised” whenever there is a raid on any brothel, “since voluntary sex work is not illegal and only running the brothel is unlawful”.
B Pushpa, Vimukthi general Secretary, hailed the supreme court verdict, but said several of them did not come into the prostitution to make money as a profession. “Many of us were dragged into prostitution by someone else,” she said and criticised the government for not providing alternative livelihoods and organising rehabilitation programmes for sex workers. “We were forced to continue prostitution even after staying in shelter homes for a long time,” she pointed out.
Executive Committee Member of Vimukthi, M Maunika, Guntur, demanded that the government implement GO MS No. 1, 2003 as directed by the Supreme Court and asked the government to provide compensation and alternative employment for leading a dignified life. She also demanded residential education for their children to save them from prostitution.
(Some names have been changed to protect their identity)