4 Mar 2011

Sex-workers also entitled to life of dignity: Supreme Court

Dismissing an appeal against the conviction for murder (which the Court described as 'brutal') of a sex-worker, the Supreme Court in a recent decision [Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of West Bengal] has declared the even the sex-workers being the citizens of the country are entitled to right to life and dignity. In this backdrop the Court directed the Government to make provision for rehabilitation of sex-workers. Directing the matter to be listed for a priority disposal, the Supreme Court took note of the situation prevailing in the country and the role of the society in placement of the sex-workers.

The role and position of sex-workers in the society was noted by a bench of Justice MARKANDEY KATJU and Justice GYAN SUDHA MISRA of the Supreme Court in a the following terms;
This is a case of brutal murder of a sex worker. Sex workers are also human beings and no one has a right to assault or murder them. A person becomes a prostitute not because she enjoys it but because of poverty. Society must have sympathy towards the sex workers and must not look down upon them. They are also entitled to a life of dignity in view of 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 Sahil Ludhianvi in his poem 'Chakle' which has been sung in the Hindi film Pyasa “Jineh Naaz Hai Hind Per wo kahan hain” (simplified version of the verse 'Sana Khwane-taqdees-e-Mashrik Kahan Hain').
We may also refer to the character Sonya Marmelodov 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.
The Court further, while requiring the Central and State Governments to inform the Court of the steps taken by them towards rehabilitation of the sex-workers, made the following observations;
Although we have dismissed this Appeal, we strongly feel that the Central and the State Governments through Social Welfare Boards should prepare schemes for rehabilitation all over the country for physically and sexually abused women commonly known as prostitutes as we are of the view that the prostitutes also have a right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution of India since they are also human beings and their problems also need to be addressed.
As already observed by us, a woman is compelled to indulge in prostitution not for pleasure but because of abject poverty. If such a 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 by selling her body.
Hence, we direct the Central and the State Governments to prepare schemes for giving technical/vocational training to sex workers and sexually abused women in all cities in India. The schemes should mention in detail who will give the technical/vocational training and in what manner they can be rehabilitated and settled by offering them employment. For instance, if a technical training is for some craft like sewing garments, etc. then some arrangements should also be made for providing a market for such garments, otherwise they will remain unsold and unused, and consequently the women will not be able to feed herself.

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