Over 52 sex workers from seven districts in Kerala met in Kottayam for a state-level meeting.

Kerala sex workers host state meeting demanding safety right to work and benefits
news Sex workers Friday, March 06, 2020 - 13:32

In a first, over 52 sex workers from seven districts in Kerala gathered as part of the Kerala Network of Sex Workers’s state-level meeting in Kozhikode on Tuesday to demand a fear-free working environment for them. The professional network was created for sex workers to discuss safe working conditions and advocate for their rights.

"Nearly 7,000 sex workers are working in various parts of Kerala, and now most of them are part of the Kerala Network of Sex Workers Union. The union plans to conduct more meetings to raise their voice, " Rajaneesh MR, the programme coordinator for the Kerala Network of Sex Workers, told TNM.

The New Network of Sex Workers (NNSW), a national-level sex workers collective, organised a meet in support of the Kerala Network of Sex Workers.  

“Sex work should be considered the same as any other employment. We need a fear-free working atmosphere and living conditions. At the Kottayam KSRTC bus stand, the police and goons blocked us from doing our jobs. We demand that the government gives us assurance that we can continue our jobs without obstacles from others in the society, said Raji (name changed), a sex worker from Kottayam.

The meeting was inaugurated by Gargi Harithakam, a social activist and writer. “Earlier in Kerala, a sex worker named Nalini Jameela shared her story with the public. After that, a group of sex workers conducted a meeting in Kerala. Such meetings helped them share their issues and provide solutions for them. These meetings can help raise their voices in their public,” Gargi said. 

Though sex work is not illegal in India, it is governed by the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, which many say curtails the rights of sex workers in the country. Brothels are criminalised through the Act and sex work is not allowed within a 200-metre radius of a public place. Section 8 of the Act also criminalises solicitation of clients. 

A sex worker from Thrissur said, “The reality is that girls do not willingly choose sex work as their professional job. Most of them choose this job due to their life conditions. In many cases, lovers or family members sexually abuse us and we are later forced to choose this job. In my case, my father sexually abused me at the age of 13, and I was disowned by my siblings and family.  Later, I chose this job. Now I demand a safe working environment.” 

“In all other sectors, workers get government benefits, including ration cards and housing schemes. But in Kerala, a sex worker cannot rent a home if anyone knows their actual job,” she said. 

Rajaneesh MR noted, “Sex workers are also human and they are part of our society. But they face untouchability from society. Sex work is the same as any other job and they have a right to do their job.” 

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