Prostitution generally entails the monetary exchange of one's body for sexual purposes, although there is so much more profundity to this definition. 'Sex work' isn't considered illegal per se in India, although it is frowned down upon for more than one reason. The atrocities towards sex workers are generally turned to the blind eye. However, one cannot disregard the discrimination and demarcate their human nature any longer as we approached further this 20th century. The COVID 19 Pandemic has hit all, rich to low, small industries to big; one such sector that was already in need of legislation have sunk lower due to the COVID 19 blow; the sex Industry. In this paper, the author would like to revisit India's sex culture, highlighting the need for assistance and responsiveness during this Pandemic.
Prostitution is one of the oldest forms of work in history throughout the world. Different cultures have adopted various ways to install and make prostitution endure in society. India had a particularly numinous outlook towards prostitution, historically known as devadasis, although much changed since its conception. Devadasis, a symbol of high status a century ago, which predominantly depreciated through the British raj. The sex industry was soon looked at like any other outcast community in India – “demeaning and undernourished.”
Pertaining to this demise, the consideration of “choice” and “safety” associated with this line of work deteriorated as well. Though prostitution is not considered illegal, under the immoral traffic (prevention) act 1956, we get a brief look at the dos and don’ts related to sex workers, explicitly the rights protecting trafficked women and children lured into the sex industry.
The ITPA strains on sex acts performed in private with consent is legal, although opposing this, it has pronounced running brothers as unlawful. Obstinately, as seen, there are still numerous brothels in India, Sonagachi, Kolkata being its biggest center. Women have been used as pawns of patriarchy throughout history, which can be seen in the brothels. Young women and children are trafficked and kept without their consent and made to “work” benefiting the brothel owners. Often women and children are left to the brothel owners’ mercy and made futile by abusive patrons.
Sex workers exist! They are also human and deserve the same treatment during calamities. Once the Pandemic hit, it did not choose who to affect. India has over eight lack of sex workers as of 2019, and thousands of them have lost their means of income and left at the clemency of chance. The COVID pandemic has brought respite to various industries, the sex industry being one of them.
Sex worker industry and the Pandemic
The Underlying Issue
Sex workers in India have to pertain towards new norms to cope with the pandemics blow. Many have related to using online modes to earn an income. Adoption of hand sanitizers and face shields as a way to carry on payment as usual. Although, with such a communicable disease such as COVID 19, it’s highly unlikely that “sanitizers and sex “go hand in hand or make an appeasing welcome to clienteles; Isn’t the best duo or incentive to keep business running as usual during this Pandemic.
Red-light districts are closely crowded quarters and dormitories, immensely unhygienic and demeaning. Some 20/30 workers live in these quarters, forced to make ends meet to sustain their livelihood. The infections related to such drastic living conditions are already hazardous, and this vulnerability has increased immensely due to the novel COVID 19.
Provisions like Article 39(e) of India’s Constitution states that “the health and strength of women and the tender age of children shall not be abused, and citizens shall not be forced by economic necessity to enter into avocations unsuited to their age or strength.“ Article 46 directs the State to promote women’s economic interests and people of weaker sections of society and protect them from social injustice. These are DPSPs (directive principles of state policy) that are unenforceable and the government’s negligence towards the sex workers remains contradictory to the above legislation.
The epidemics disease acts, 1987; overly outdated legislation mentions guidelines concerning National disaster management. It leaves no mentions of protecting marginalized communities’ evacuation, including sex owners who live in poor conditions and are vulnerable to being infected to coved 19.
The Supreme Court, as of last month, ordered states and union territories to supply rations to sex workers identified by the nation’s aids control organization and district legal authorities without insisting on the production of identity documents like ration cards paramedic. The United Nations development program reported that more than 43% of respondent sex workers do not have ration cards, and only 14% reported having BPL cards.
The government has taken up incentives to issue bank accounts to various sex workers. Out of the eight lack of sex workers, most of them are children and trafficked women; therefore, having adequate documentation and id cards is obscure and out of the question. The government’s incentive to check on id cards easily might prove beneficial for these sex workers.
NISD (national institute of social defence) has announced 1500rs to each sex worker as cash support, similar to the transgender scheme. Generally, this cash support seldom reaches who its justly for; once again, the lack of education and awareness makes these sex workers posters for exploitation.
Financial assistance from the Australian government is available to those who have lost their income because of the Covid-19 crisis. Still, to qualify for the payments, workers need to show they have been paying tax – something that unregistered sex workers, including migrants and trans people, often won’t be able to do. India, too, lacks this inducement, although the first step would be providing adequate documentation. This, in turn, also helps solve the mastery of identity allocation while predominantly shedding light on India’s trafficking problem.
An online appeal by the Las Vegas Sex Worker Collective has raised $19,300 while a campaign by a coalition of support groups in Italy has raised almost €21,700. The need for the hour is to involve as many people as possible to spread knowledge of the sex industry; having fundraisers and online payment methods for these industries will immensely provide a basic standard of living and security for these sex workers.
A pragmatic way forward
The sex industry’s image has diminished throughout history, although yes, it still supports several lives and is regardless deemed an ‘industry,’ and the people are running it is Human, nonetheless. India’s constitution guarantees the right to live with dignity; however, the stigma and lack of awareness related to the industry proves otherwise.
It is imperative to create awareness amid the general society associated with the sex industry and the mindset of people deemed ‘safeguarding’ it.
Health and safety initiatives should be organized to protect these minorities. Sex workers are prone to HIV; the failure to stop this disease’s spread gives all the more incentive to spread awareness among this highly vulnerable population. Many sexual diseases go about unnoticed and pilloried, which causes an increase in the stigma related to sex workers. Therefore, creating assertions related to ‘awareness of healthcare,’ ‘benefits of testing’ and ‘acceptance without shame’ must be generated and installed in everyone’s mind, especially the uneducated and vulnerable.
Due to the current trauma of stigma from society, the sex industry workers’ mouths have been taped shut with shame and fear; the lack of access to justice for the sex word plays a significant role in their exploitation. Due to this very stigma, many COVID 19 positive patients in the sex industry will keep quiet not to attract attention and further harassment, while also not losing any other future income. Sex workers are no stranger to Abuse, and the consideration and attention they receive for this mistreatment is less than satisfactory and needs contemplation.
The old dogmata- various households refuse to install transgender lives in their household for work. Still, they openly welcome these very same individuals in marriage ceremonies as a form of blessing. The same discrimination is given to sex workers. The discrimination related to not attaching these individuals onto the workforce other than the sex industry is why these sex workers are trapped in the industry, as they don’t know where to go from it.
The community must destigmatize this misconception and barbarism so that these members of society might have a chance of work and aim for upliftment and contribute towards society in all ways. During this Pandemic, countless lives have lost their incentive to work, although it has been over six months since the nationwide lockdown was announced. Recently, many workplaces and jobs have started going back to normal. The Pandemic doesn’t mean an end to work, although a shot at innovation and manpower utilization to its finest.
A lack of general education in any field can be dangerous. Sex industries lack fundamental health care and medical knowledge. During this Pandemic, these sex workers and brothels must be aware of the risk of transmission of the Novel coronavirus disease to prevent themselves from its fatality and stop the virus’s spread. The lack of legislation relating to the sex industry in India is concerning and demoralizing. However, during these troubling times, we must look towards prevention more than protection.
The NGOs and governmental organizations have serval effects to help the underprivileged during this Pandemic. One must not forget those sex workers come under this society and are only treated as a nuisance due to misconception of their higher authority exploitation. An amiable Effort by organizations in lifting the atrocities related to the sex industry, although this Pandemic denotes one assertion – we need more help! Especially the underprivileged that lack the basic amenities of surviving through this Pandemic.
A society in which individuals are treated with respect and dignity will do their best to ensure its protection. When society deprives and targets a specific community and undermines it, it comes as no shock that social maladies increase. In the case of COVID 19, one must treat the societal Maladies side by side while preventing the disease’s spread.