In the hierarchy of the Rescue Industry a Supreme Court judge must rank very high. Here is one in India who surpassed himself whilst deciding on a murderer’s appeal. Not only should the murderer go to prison for life but all sex workers should be given vocational training so they can change occupations. Is this not truly daft? Ideology aside, I mean: there simply are not alternate jobs for everyone in the world who doesn’t have a super-nice one, particularly if you care about money. How does this 19th-century ‘alternate’ idea manage to hold on in today’s world? Sex workers in Bangalore, whose union is affiliated with the New Trade Union Initiative, explained succinctly why rescue and rehabilitation are not what they want: see below in red under Collective Power.
By Astrid Zweynert, 28 March 2011, TrustLaw
It was a noble sentiment when India’s highest court proclaimed that sex workers had a right to life and dignity, just like anybody else under the country’s constitution. Dismissing an appeal by a man sentenced to life for murdering a sex worker, the Supreme Court also directed the government to provide vocational training to sex workers to help rehabilitate them. “A woman is compelled to indulge in prostitution not for pleasure but because of abject poverty,” the court said last month. “If such woman is granted opportunity to avail some technical or vocational training, she would be able to earn her livelihood by such vocational training and skill instead of selling her body.”
Sex workers were not impressed. “This is feeble sympathy,” Veena, a transgender sex worker, told TrustLaw. Veena represents Karnataka Sex Workers Union in the southern city of Bangalore.
What many sex workers want more than anything is to have their work decriminalised. In India, selling sex is not illegal but activities around sex work, such as soliciting or running a brothel, are punishable with fines and even imprisonment. “If we can’t solicit clients without getting arrested, we will naturally rely on pimps to carry on our trade,” Veena said. “What we need are practical measures that free us from exploitation created by the law itself.”
The government has until May 4 to detail the steps it is taking to implement vocational training. But one thing is for sure among sex workers – forced rehabilitations carried out by the state in the name of “rescuing them from their plight” is not the way forward.
The idea that sex workers should be rehabilitated may be almost as old as the profession itself. It comes from a belief that every sex worker wants to get out of sex work. To be sure, many sex workers in India enter the trade against their will. Levels of violence against sex workers are high and they grapple with other problems, such as access to health care and high HIV infection rates. But campaigners argue that this does not necessarily mean they want to change their way of life and enter rehabilitation schemes that are based on the moralistic premise that sex work is immoral.
They also say such thinking does a great disservice to the collective struggles by the sex workers’ movement in India, which for nearly a decade has been demanding rights, not sympathy. . .