Exclusive Report: Pregnant Sex Worker Thrashed So Brutally That She Had Miscarriage, Why SC Order On Sex Workers A Landmark?

Kiran Deshmukh, a Maharashtra citizen, has been a sex worker for the past 30 years. She continues, with a faint smile on her lips, “Now the doors are opening for us as well.” We are being heard, understood, and, most importantly, treated as “Humans.”

New Delhi: On May 27, a Supreme Court bench comprising Justice L Nageswara Rao, Justice BR Gavai, and Justice AS Bopanna issued multiple orders to protect the rights of sex workers. In response to this directive, sex workers claim that the decade-long struggle for their rights has finally paid off.

HW News spoke with a number of sex workers who had faced harassment at the hands of police over the years. Reading the stories of their plight one may be able to understand why the Supreme Court ruling is referred to as a “Landmark Order”.

Before delving into the Supreme Court’s decision, let’s take a look at the issues that women face who are involved in sex work. We’ll also try to understand, contrary to the common belief, how non-profit organizations attempting to ban sex work are making life harder for sex workers.


34-year-old Prema (name changed), who has been a sex worker for 15 years, recalls with rage an incident in which she was accused of stealing a phone by a customer. When she was taken to the police station, the officers assumed she was guilty without giving her a chance to defend herself.

She goes on to add that after a while, another woman was brought to the police station on accusations of theft. “The police officers spoke nicely with her. She was treated respectfully,” Prema said. She claims that the police regard her as a criminal because of her profession, even before she is proven guilty, and subsequently abuse her.

Kiran Deshmukh is the president of the National Network of Sex Workers (NNSW). She’s also a member of Vaishya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP). Kiran is with HIV for the past 22 years. In a faint voice, Kiran recalls how sex workers faced police brutality during a raid in Maharashtra’s Pune in 2013. One of the sex workers who was caught in the raid was pregnant and had a miscarriage after being barbarically beaten by the cops.

We have the right to live, too, Kiran argues, yet the cops harass sex workers in the name of a raid. ‘Who will you complain to?’ Kiran replies in answer to a question about similar occurrences being reported. They would not have listened to us in advance if we had gone to the police, nor would they have made a complaint if we had gone to the police.

For the past 15 years, Seema has worked as a sex worker in Nagpur. She belongs to the Ganika Mahila Shakti Sangathan. She describes how the police come in, raid, and send the women to the shelter house without their consent, using human rights as justification.

Seema claims that her mother was a sex worker as well and that her mother was beaten up in front of her during a raid. “At least ask us, what do we want, right?’ Seema remarked. “They talk about our well bring and then send us to hell. Many of us, as mothers, have toddlers. For months, we are separated from our children. This Supreme Court judgment will undoubtedly provide us with some respite,” She hopes.

Usha (identity hidden) is from Uttar Pradesh. She shivers as she recalls the Covid-19 Pandemic. Describing her ordeal, she says, “We sex workers were suffering from malnutrition throughout the outbreak.” Usha says, “In the locality where I reside, people like “us” are unable to receive good medical therapy. The earnings had come to a halt at that point. We were buried under a mountain of debt. The pandemic had worsened our already terrible circumstances.”

Ayesha Rai, a sex worker and activist, believes that the Supreme Court’s directive will provide relief to women in the sex industry, especially trans women who are frequently victims of exploitation, but that there is still a long road ahead.

Sex workers are harassed, according to Ayesha, citing the Immoral Trade (Prevention) Act, 1956 Act. She claims that her campaign has never been for legal recognition of sex work, but rather for its decriminalization. So that those who do this service for no monetary gain are not labelled as criminals. Ayesha declares that she opposes human and child trafficking. Some people are forced into sex work against their will; this should not be the case.

Police in the country subject transgender sex workers to inhumane physical and emotional torture. “We don’t appreciate trans women at all,” says Rama (name changed), a trans sex worker in Delhi. Many times, the cops would ask us to strip under the pretext of a raid. and if we refuse they thrash us mercilessly.

Bharti Dey, former secretary of the Durbar Women’s Coordination Committee and current member of the Supreme Court panel, welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision, saying that for the time being, the Supreme Court has simply given directions. Society’s attitude toward us will not alter in a day or with a simple directive. We will not even be considered first-class citizens until our rights are codified in law.

She described the Supreme Court’s decision as the first stage, saying that now we will all decide together how to proceed.

What Does The Data Say?

According to the National AIDS Control Organization’s figures, India has a total of 7.76 lakh sex workers. According to a study conducted by Sangram (an NGO that works with sex workers) in 2016-17, 70% of women who were brought out of the sex work in the raids, returned to it after a period of time.

The report also claims that the police had burned down the homes of sex workers in some cases, but they were unable to speak out against the police. This is why sex workers are terrified of the police and the government.

Harassment By Police

A study of 85 sex workers in Nagpur was recently conducted by the Ganika. According to the study, 70% of sex workers had been subjected to at least two police or NGO raids. 32 per cent of women said they had been raided four times. 58 per cent of the women were placed in shelters. 14 women said that they had to face physical and mental harassment, such as hair pulling, abusing, and beatings during the raid. A common thing found in these studies was that women were separated from their young children, and family members. They were not allowed to meet anyone in the shelter home.

In this study, sex workers from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh described how they were dragged to a shelter house against their will. Employees of the NGO were misbehaving with them there. According to the story, a mother was held in the rescue home for five months and was not allowed to see her three young children. The women said that they were starved and held in dark rooms.

In Andhra Pradesh, sex workers were blackmailed and money was seized from rescue homes, according to a report by the National Network of Sex Workers. Sex workers were threatened that if they did not pay up, their occupation would be revealed to their families. According to the claim, a sex worker from Andhra Pradesh was asked three lakh rupees. Because they are afraid of the warden and the police, they do not speak up; instead, they bear everything silently.

According to the report, police brutality is similar in Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu. Sex workers are asked for bribes, and if they refuse, they are harassed and blackmailed.

What Does The Supreme Court Order Say?

The Supreme Court, citing Article 142, ordered states and union territories to rigorously comply with the demands of a panel established by the court in 2011 on the rehabilitation of sex workers last month.

HW News spoke with advocate Trupti Tandon, who was present in the panel of the Supreme Court-appointed committee, to better comprehend the Supreme Court’s directives. She stated that the case is still pending in court and that the hearing will be placed at a later date. According to Trupti Tandon, the court stated in its first decision that sex workers are harassed and hounded by the police and that they must cease immediately. Sex workers should be treated as respectable citizens of the country by the police.

Second, sex workers should use condoms to protect their health. Previously, the police would have used it as proof of criminality during the raid; this will no longer be considered. Third, there was no legal representation for sex workers previously. They were either charged with running a brothel or as a victim in court. There was no one around to talk to.

The court has instructed the states and Union Territories to ask sex workers in all cases and to give them legal assistance if necessary. It will also be free if she hires a lawyer from outside the government without using government funds.

Fourth, the Supreme Court has issued strict guidelines on media reporting. Due to dramatic news, media outlets broadcast photographs and videos of sex workers without consent on their platforms. As a result, sex workers encounter numerous issues in the future. The court stated that such actions will now be rigorously punished, citing Section 354C of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). In addition, the Press Council has been asked to develop relevant guidelines.

Fifth, the Supreme Court has stated that the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act of 1956 should be carefully obeyed, but that sex workers’ human rights should not be abridged as a result of this. Similarly, following the raid, when the sex worker is brought before the magistrate and the magistrate requests an investigation, the investigation shall be completed within three weeks. No one will be held for more than three weeks in detention.

Sixth, citing Article 21, the court stated that everyone has the freedom to live their lives on their own terms. No action will be taken against an adult who chooses sex work of his/her own free choice. However, this will happen after a three-week study. The panel already stated that it should be asked and applied at the time of the police raid. However, the administration was divided on this issue. This case is now in court.

Sex workers now claim that those who wish to continue this work of their own free will should be allowed to do so. Many women are forced to indulge in sex work in order to feed their families. Women adopt this occupation as a result of poverty, yet they are subjected to police harassment.

Trans women, on the other hand, continue to be unemployed. This is why they are forced to engage in other activities such as sex labour. However, many such women, particularly young girls, are smuggled and forcibly pushed into this trade in the country. In this sense, the courts and the administration must make the legislation more stringent.

This is a translated exclusive News Report Conducted and Written By Swarna Jha 

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