Karnataka Sex Workers Union Symposium 

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“There is an urgent need to provide housing facilities for sex workers just like all marginalised communities and we are ready to recommend to the government to provide free houses and education for the children of sex workers,” said MG Paly, General Manager, Karnataka Women Development Corporation here on Sunday.

BT Venkatesh, eminent advocate and former State public prosecutor said: “Sex work is work and sex workers deserve respect and dignity for which they are fighting for over 25 years. Now it is important to make sure that the Supreme Court directives are implemented.”

Representing the department at the Symposium on challenges faced by Sex Workers and the current issues of sex workers in the wake of the recent Supreme Court directives, Paly said proper enrolment should be made with the help of other departments like SLSA and NGOs.The programme was hosted by Karnataka Sex Workers Union in collaboration with Solidarity Foundation and National Network of Sex Workers under the aegis of Sangama. Members of 18 different NGOs, CBOs, civil society organisations, progressive movements, farmers’ organisations, labour unions and social work students attended the symposium at the SCM House. About 45 female sex worker delegates from across the State representing more than 10 districts joined 60 others for the three-day event.

The Sex Workers Union leaders demanded the repeal of Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA) which criminalises all aspects of sex worker including brothel keeping, brokers (‘pimps’), adult children living on income of sex workers, soliciting et al. Bhagya, a senior sex worker leader said: “We demand full decriminalise of these aspects around ITPA. The archaic law should be repealed.”

Poorna R, Advocate and activist from Alternative Law Forum explained the different aspects of the recent Supreme Court guidelines which directed the National Legal Services Authority to make sure that sex workers are not treated like victims. “The SC order is good for the street-based sex workers but it continues to criminalise brothels and brothel-based workers. But this is a good tool in the hands of sex workers to fight systemic violence,”

Prof Neethi of Indian Institute of Human Settlements and Anant Kamath, who authored a forthcoming book on sex workers spoke about their research and the book.

Earlier in the morning session, at the Sex workers dialogue  with other organisations, CS Dwarakanath said that sexworkers are a backward class. When he was the chairperson of the Karnataka Backward Classes Commission, the commission did a detailed study and submitted a report to the Government of Karnataka recommending sex workers to be included in BC 2A category. No action was taken on successive governments in the past 12 years.“

JM Veerasangaiah, a veteran leader of Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha extended his support to sex workers movement and spoke about the contribution of a sexworker Shantavva, who built Sulekere, the second largest built lake in Asia in 11th or 15th century. It is located in Channagiri taluka of Davanagere District in Karnataka and irrigates 4,700 acres of land and more than 170 villages are benefited by it.

Nandini of ActionAid said that “we should not be moralistic on matters of sexuality. All of us use some parts of our body for work, sex workers may use some other parts of the body for their work, it should make no difference to us and they should get all rights as a worker.”

KSWU leaders also demanded

  • recognise sexwork under labour laws and provide us all the rights and benefits available to other workers
  • provide housing for sex workers who don’t own a house
  • provide pension and alternative livelihoods to retired sex workers (above 40 years age)
  • educational scholarships, hostel facilities for children of sex workers
  • care centres for children of sex workers during sex work timings

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