Friday 14 November 2014

Sex Workers
 In India perhaps there are millions of sex workers ( prostitutes ).
   A person becomes a prostitute not because she enjoys it but because of poverty. It is one of the worst kinds of exploitation of a human being by other human beings. Society must have sympathy towards the sex workers and must not look down upon them. They are also entitled to a life of dignity as envisaged by Article 21 of the Constitution.
 In the novels and stories of the great Bengali Writer Sharat Chand Chattopadhyaya, many prostitutes have been shown to be women of very high character, e.g., Rajyalakshmi in 'Shrikant', Chandramukhi in 'Devdas' etc.
The plight of prostitutes has been depicted by the great Urdu poet Sahir Ludhianvi in his poem 'Chakle' which has been sung in the Hindi film Pyasa  (Jinhen Naaz Hai Hind Par Wo Khan Hain, which is the simplified version of the verse 'Sana khwan- e-taqdees-e-Mashrik kahan hain').
We may also refer to the character Sonya Marmelodova in Dostoyevsky's famous novel 'Crime and Punishment'. Sonya is depicted as a girl who sacrifices her body to earn some bread for her impoverished family.
Reference may also be made to Amrapali, who was a contemporary of Lord Buddha.
 Sex among human beings is different from sex among animals. Sex in humans has a cultural aspect to it also, and is not just a physical act. A sex worker who has to surrender her body to a man for money obviously is not leading a life of dignity. Ordinarily, no woman will willingly surrender her body to a man unless she loves and respects him. A sex worker is obviously not surrendering her body to a man because she loves and respect him, but just for sheer survival. As Nancy says in Charles Dicken's novel `Oliver Twist', "you adapt or you die".

 Apart from that, sex workers are always in danger of getting sexually transmitted diseases (STD), and they are often exploited, abused and beaten by the proprietors of the brothel and others who give them a pittance out of her earnings. There are several million sex workers in India, many even from Nepal, Bangaldesh, and even from the former Soviet Union. This is due to massive poverty in the country, and abroad.

 Our effort must be to educate the public and inform them that sex workers are not bad persons, but they are unfortunate girls who have been forced to go into this flesh trade due to terrible poverty. Hence society should not look down upon the sex workers but should have sympathy with them.
 I have already referred to the novels of the great Bengali writer Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyaya about the plight of sex workers, and the same has been shown in the novels of many European writers.
 Thus, the Russian writer Dostoyevsky's novel `Crime & Punishment' has shown Sonia Marmeladova as a woman of high character who became a sex worker to feed her starving family. Similarly, in Charles Dicken's novel `Oliver Twist', the sex worker Nancy is shown to be a girl of high character who sacrifices her life to save Oliver. In Victor Hugo's famous novel `Les Miserables', Fantine sacrifices her hair and teeth to provide for her daughter Cosette. Martha in `David Copperfield' is also depicted as a woman of noble heart.

 In this connection I may quote an Urdu sher ( couplet ) :
"Pinhaa tha daam-e-sakht qareeb aashiyaan ke
Udhne hi na paaye the ki giraftaar hum hue "

The above sher (couplet) of the great Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib, was used by me in my order in the Supreme Court in Budhadev Karmaskar vs. State of West Bengal, Cr.Appeal 135/2010

The word 'pinha' means 'hidden' or 'concealed', 'daam' means 'net', 'sakht' means 'hard' or 'cruel', 'qareeb' means 'near', 'aashiyaan' means 'nest', and 'giraftaar' means 'caught' or 'arrested'.

The sher therefore means :

"Near the nest was the hidden cruel net (of a hunter)
Even before the chick could take its first flight it was caught".

I used the sher to compare these innocent young girls to the chick which is caught in the net of the cruel hunter in its very first flight. In other words, these young girls, who should have had a life of happiness before them, have their lives destroyed at a very early age..

In India perhaps there are millions or sex workers (prostitutes), the exact number of which is uncertain.. They have been driven into this profession not because they enjoy it but because of abject poverty. The massive poverty of about 75% of our population of 1250 million people is the real cause of exploitation of women. To fill their stomachs these poor girls have to sell their bodies. These girls should have had a life of happiness, but instead they get caught in the flesh trade because of their poverty at a very young age and their lives are ruined.

These girls come into the flesh trade not because they enjoy it but because of abject poverty. They become practically slaves of the brothel owners, and are pitilessly exploited, and often brutally treated. Once they enter the flesh trade they became social outcastes for the so called ‘decent’ society.Surely it cannot be said they enjoy a life of dignity envisaged by Article 21 of the Constitution.

Buddhadev Karmaskar vs. State of West Bengal, Criminal Appeal No. 135 of 2010 was a case which came up before a bench of the Supreme Court of which I was the senior member. The appellant had brutally killed a sex worker, and we upheld his conviction. However, having dismissed the appeal, we suo motu converted it into a P.I.L. for rehabilitating sex workers.

We were of the view that if sex workers were given some technical training they could earn their bread through this technical skill, instead of by selling their bodies. Hence we directed the Central and State Governments to prepare schemes for rehabilitating the sex workers, and we also set up a Committee, headed by a senior lawyer of the Supreme Court, to monitor this exercise.
 We knew that by merely passing judicial orders this great social injustice cannot be abolished. That will take time. But we wanted to create an awareness of the problem, so that the people, particularly our young people, start thinking seriously about it and find out ways and means of solving it, in a humanitarian way, so that these young innocent girls can be rehabilitated in society.


  1. Sex work is not an easy task. It has certain risks and certain advantages. I am very upset with the mindset which is reflected in the following words:

    "We were of the view that if sex workers were given some technical training they could earn their bread through this technical skill, instead of by selling their bodies."

    I cannot understand that why Mr Katju thought that every sex worker works in this profession because of some compulsion? Although, it may be true in many cases. On the other hand, porn stars such as Sunny Leone had made a very successful career and is known to achieve a lot in life at a very young age. The mindset that prostitution is somehow wrong has no moral basis. Why an adult person could not be allowed to use his or her body for earning through sexual activities? Why he or she is expected to learn some other skills and leave prostitution?

    I find the aforementioned "quoted" statement as highly objectionable. What if I present that statement in the following manner:

    "We were of the view that if technical workers were given some sex training they could earn their bread through this sexual skill, instead of by selling their technical labour."

    I think that many of the technical skill holders might find my aforementioned statement as wrong and offensive. Similarly the the statement made by Mr Katju could be seen as offensive by many sex workers those who are happy in their profession. While I accept that prostitution is not treated respectfully by the society in general but the society has to learn to respect the profession as there is nothing wrong in this profession.

  2. Sir,
    It is a very sensitive issue. Even giving comments may bring brickbats. There are a few take this as a profession due to some reasons, whatever it may be. I feel, the government has to regulate with some norms than hiding behind or branding as illegal activity. Probably, this could be one of the reasons of a high level of sex crimes in India compared to liberal western countries. There is a demand and also some are ready to provide as service. Even alcohol is a bad habit for poor as many spending in drinking of their hard earned money and spoiling their family to suffer in poverty. But for Gujrat, unable to implement prohibition. Legalizing and regulating this trade may bring down exploitation and may provide decent life to them.

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