[VoxSpace Life] The Sad Reality Lurking Behind The Mantle Of The Anti-Trafficking Bill

Anti-Trafficking Bill- An Old Gimmick Repeated 

Issues regarding the legitimacy of sex workers in Indian society date back to centuries. During the recent time’s violent marches and rallies, have also erupted demanding better living conditions for the workers whose lives have descended to slavery. Several debates revolving around the legalization of prostitution had also surfaced in the past, however, their footing in the society has deteriorated over time and along with the circumstances under which they work. Swelling of the number of girls are yet to become a woman are not rarities and neither are their exploitation; sex workers in India go through different types of abuses perpetrated to some extent by their owners, police, husbands, state institutions and of course state authorities. Indian prostitutes were viewed through the lens of a typical oriental demeanour, most of the times they resided under such inhuman conditions that the body became a breeding ground for fatal diseases transmittable to their customers.  The recent Anti-Trafficking Bill that was proposed by the Union Government is the first of its kind in India, although a similar scheme is in existence from over a decade, known as “Ujjawala”.

The anti-trafficking bill aka Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill would aim to check forced labour, forced trafficking induced by the injection of drug or hormones, begging and trafficking of child and women on the false grounds of marriage/providing job. As much as this was a whiff of fresh air under the current circumstances when India ranked as the 53rd country endorsing and multiplying “modern slaves”, the situation remains ambivalent.  If you scan the each and every aspect of the bill along with its implications and possibilities, you would realize why all is not well for the sex workers.

Politics Of Power?

The anti-trafficking bill proposes to send the victims to state-regulated shelter homes and has no mention of consent during the execution of the same. This filtration or the process of filling the shelter houses can also include consenting adults, transgender, whose sole source of income is prostitution. What else can one expect under the dictatorial purging, the anti-trafficking bill in no way mentions whether it will take the consent of the adult victims before packing them off to shelter homes or native countries. Human rights activists have condemned the move as against the very tenets of humanity and are a deliberate attempt to criminalize paid sex, far from actually working for the improvement of the victims, it tends to asphyxiate them. If the precariousness of the situation reaches to such extremity, it would also violate the Article 19(1)(g) of Indian constitution that bestows the right to practice any trade, profession, unless and until it is illegal in the eyes of laws. Practising prostitution is not yet illegal in the country, however that has done very little to stop police atrocities on the workers.

Since the country has already criminalised pimping, owing to a brothel (openly) and soliciting customers in public places the aforementioned bill would further curb whatever shreds of freedom the sex workers are currently enjoying. The contradiction of laws has spared little dignity for the Indian workers unlike in Australia, Canada, and Columbia amongst other countries, where prostitution has been legalized years back. One of the many Australian women who is practising it since years believes that women who reside in the New South Wales and adjoining regions of Australia, where prostitution is legal, have lived to see the better light of the day. They have high living standards and are not prone to rampant violence or diseases unlike in Western parts. The country is unique in its distinct approaches to the trade demarcated by states and their respective authorities. In any way, these countries have been successful in eliminating to some extent drudgeries and violence whose apical share has been benevolently bestowed upon the Indian sex workers.

No Man’s Land For Sex Workers

It cannot be ascertained yet if the move is political in nature but can be inferred that authorities would prey on those people who have opted for the profession out of compulsion. These women have already a high dependency rate on pimps and their owners, the bill, if it comes to action, would raise the pre-existing burdens. On a deeper analysis, we can see how the discrepancy between forced and consenting sex is at stake due to the drafted anti-trafficking bill. Lack of transparency in the process has made a number of sex workers apprehensive, and one cannot refute the justification of their feelings. The law on coming to action would command imprisonment from ten years to life sentence, depending upon the severity of the crime committed; to end on a positive note, it will no doubt tame the unlawful act to some degree, if not completely exterminate it from society.

Legalization Of Prostitution In India

Deliberation on the legalization of prostitution in the nation has been there for quite some time and can be considered as the need of the hour. Interestingly many NGOs have vehemently protested against the suggestion put forward by Supreme Court back in 2015. According to me, the move will serve as a better equipment to deal with sex trafficking or forced sex and will help the government in providing better living conditions for the workers, which includes easy access to health care treatment and social status. Debates concerning the legalization erupt year after year and eventually gets subsided. One cannot hope to do away with sexually transmittable diseases until and unless they are washing off the “stigma” associated with the profession. The proliferation of such activities in the seediest and crammed up brothels is directly or indirectly the outcome of the double standards of the society which ministers and NGOs are toiling hard to stick to.

Due to the sheer lack of schemes to provide for women on a day-to-day basis, many women are forced into prostitution. Women belonging to different social classes and not just the socially marginalized women like Dalits and Adivasis, as the media often are accustomed to portraying. So in case if you are at loggerheads with people     pro-legalizing of prostitution, ensure that the state has enough resources to allocate to the victims, including their family members. Providing them with a roof overhead and stringent supervision in the name of shelter homes would hardly feed the hungry mouths back at her home. The anti-trafficking bill would threaten multitudes of workers belonging from all parts of India living outside the margins of law unless it does away with its obscurities and ambiguousness.