Sex workers: India

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Courts’ orders

Sex work not offence, but doing it in public place can be

Rebecca Samervel, May 23, 2023: The Times of India

Mumbai: Observing as per rules, engaging in sex work is not in itself an offence but to do it in public place so as to cause annoyance to others can be called an offence, a sessions court has directed a shelter home to set at liberty a 34-year-old female sex worker who was taken into custody after a raid was conducted at Mulund in February this year. The woman moved the sessions court after the magistrate’s court had directed her to be detained at the home for the period of one year for care, protection and shelter.

Quashing this order, a sessions court said under Article 19 of the Constitution, the right to move freely throughout and to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India are fundamental rights.


Chaitra Navratra, seventh night

BINAY SINGH, April 21, 2021: The Times of India

The rising toll of the lethal Covid second wave has left people across the world terrified and anxious, but death in the sacred city of Kashi is still considered a bliss. When most ghats along the Ganga wore a deserted look due to the Covid scare, a group of sex workers could be seen dancing at the Manikarnika Ghat, the ‘mahashamshan’ where the fire of pyres never extinguishes.

Maintaining their age-old tradition, the sex workers, referred to as ‘nagar vadhoos’, performed a dance before Maha Shamshan Nath, the lord of cremation ground, on the seventh night of Chaitra Navratra on Monday, when the three-day ‘shringar’ of the deity concluded.

For an outsider it may be a harrowing experience to see women singing and dancing amid the burning funeral pyres, but for a hardcore Banarasi, it is an age-old tradition, and they enjoy the dance unmindful of the smoke and smell from the burning pyres.

The Manikarnika Ghat has been witnessing an increased rush of dead bodies for cremation, say locals. “Normally, 100 bodies arrived here per day for cremation in this season, but these days the number has gone up by almost three times, possibly due to more corona deaths,” said Gopal Yadav, who sells pyre wood, adding that bodies come in such big numbers only at the peak of summer and winter.

“Since it is corona time, there was no public to witness the dance of ‘nagar vadhoos’ (courtesans) after the evening aarti in the temple. Only select people of temple management were present,” said Gulshan Kapoor, the organiser.

In pre-Covid times, a large crowd of locals and foreigners would gather to watch the unique event, undeterred by the smoke from the pyres and crackling sounds of the burning wood. For foreigners, it is a unique spectacle and an enigma of Varanasi, where dying means attaining moksha.

As per tradition, sex workers offer prayers to the deity on the seventh night of Chaitra Navratra annually. After prayers and rituals, they dance and sing on a makeshift stage. “It’s a tradition in Varanasi that the nagar vadhoos perform for the deity,” said Kapoor.

The tradition began in the 16th Century, when the king of Amber, Raja Man Singh restored a temple at the Manikarnika Ghat. The king wanted to organise a music concert to celebrate the occasion, but none of the artists turned up to perform at the cremation ghat. The sex workers then offered their services and performed at the cremation ground. The tradition has been continuing since then, he added.

Legal rights

Voter IDs, ration cards without revealing their profession

Dhananjay Mahapatra, Dec 16, 2021: The Times of India

NEW DELHI: Thousands of female sex workers (FSWs) in each of the seven states going into assembly elections next year may become voters as the Supreme Court on Tuesday directed all states and Union territories to immediately issue voter and ration cards to them without revealing their profession to avoid social stigma.

A bench of Justices L N Rao, BR Gavai and BV Nagarathna in its order said, “The Centre, states and UTs as well as other authorities are directed to commence issuance of ration cards and voter i-cards immediately to sex workers, list of which is maintained by National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO). The authorities can take assistance of State AIDS Control authorities”.

The seven states going to poll next year are UP, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Amicus Curiae Pijush K Roy submitted a compilation of affidavits on sex workers filed by some states.

Roy said most states have commenced giving dry ration to sex workers on the direction of the SC, which had passed the order last year. He said only Haryana hasn’t given any dry ration yet and promises to start from January.

Amicus Curiae and advocate Jayant Bhushan said it is not clear from the affidavits of the state governments whether the dry ration is being provided without a break or was it stopped after making provision for the same for one or two months during the pandemic. The bench said, “There is no reason why a direction of the apex court, passed a decade ago, has not been implemented till now”. It asked the states and UTs to file compliance affidavit in four weeks.

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