India: Harassment of women engaged in prostitution in Karnataka

Protest against the threats and intimidation unleashed on women activists of the social work organisation SANGRAM and the prostitutes collective VAMP (Veshya AIDS Mukabla Parishad) by the Nippani Circle Inspector of Police Satish Khot and the Shiv Sena corporator of Nippani.
Since its inception in 1992 SANGRAM has successfully mobilized communities in Maharashtra and the border areas of north Karnataka around the issue of sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV/AIDS) through peer education and condom distribution. In 1996 the peer education programme broadened into VAMP, an independent collective of women in prostitution. WLUML joins the efforts of SANGRAM and VAMP and requests your urgent intervention in this case.
The Hindu
Sunday, Feb 24, 2002

A battle against sexual harassment begins

MUMBAI, FEB. 23. They have always accepted condemnation and abuse as part of their destiny for being part of the world's oldest profession of flesh trade but are in no way ready to accept humiliation and verbal ridicule when it comes to fighting for their rights. For the 30- odd commercial sex workers, the battle against sexual harassment has just begun.

At a Press conference here today, Shabana, a sex worker from Nipani area, bordering Karnataka, narrated the poignant tale of how she was hounded by the so-called moral brigade of the village for daring to hold a meeting of prostitutes on AIDS awareness and prevention.

Shabana, who is part of Sangram and VAMP, two sister organisations working with commercial sex workers, had to face the wrath of a mob on February 18, who armed with sticks and sharp weapons pounded at the door and demanded her blood. "They wanted to kill me for organising a meeting of sex workers on AIDS prevention,'' she said.

She narrated how the harassment began when VAMP bought a piece of land in Nipani and began using the space for their organisational meetings. "Sex workers from seven districts of western Maharashtra used to come and attend the meeting. However, the local corporator began to threaten us and demanded that we stop holding meetings,'' said another sex worker.

"They were objecting to us using our very own purchased land for a legitimate cause,'' she said. ``Matters reached such a stage that they came chasing Shabana and wanted to kill her. The intervention of her landlord saved her life,'' added Meena Seshu, a social activist working with sangram. The tragedy was compounded when Shabana who went to lodge a complaint with the local police was abused with open sexual connotations and was humiliated for being part of the sex trade, Meena said.

"The police turned us down saying we were not the normal citizens of the country and our complaints could not be entertained,'' Shabana added. "It is surprising we are considered citizens during election time. Is our ration card not proof of our citizenship,'' asked another sex worker, who received threats that her children would be killed if she attended the meeting.

The Press conference had its moments of tense silence as sex-workers broke down while narrating their tale of humiliation at a police station and alleged that a police officer used sexual expletives while turning them out. "We are being targeted for working for a social cause on AIDS prevention,'' one of them said.
Asian Women's Commission on Human Rights (AWHRC)
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