"It need not be gainsaid that notwithstanding the profession, every individual in this country has a right to a dignified life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India," said the Supreme Court while issuing directions to all states and Union Territories to treat sex workers with dignity on 19 May.
An SC bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai, and AS Bopanna was issuing directions on the recommendations of court-appointed panel, when it observed that the all forces, who have a duty under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act 1956 should bear the constitutional protection in mind.
"Police should treat all sex workers with dignity and should not abuse them, both verbally and physically, subject them to violence or coerce them into any sexual activity."SC bench
The bench reportedly added that the police's attitude towards sex workers is often "brutal and violent."
Further, the SC asserted that administrations of all states and UTs should comply with the following panel recommendations:
Any sex worker who is a victim of sexual assault should be provided with all facilities available to a survivor of sexual assault, including immediate medical assistance, in accordance with Section 357C (treatment of victims) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
Guidelines on protecting identities of sex workers during police actions or rescue operations should be issued by the Press Council of India. The council should direct media not to publish or telecast any photos that would reveal their identities. The panel stated, "Besides, the newly introduced Section 354C, IPC which makes voyeurism a criminal offence, should be strictly enforced against electronic media."
Measures that sex workers employ for their health and safety (eg, use of condoms, etc) must neither be construed as offences nor seen as evidence of commission of an offence.
State governments to do a survey of shelter homes so that cases of adult women who are detained against their will can be reviewed and processed for release in a time-bound manner.
National Legal Services Authority, State Legal Services Authority, and District Legal Services Authority should carry out workshops for educating the sex workers abut their rights vis-a-vis the legality of sex work, rights and obligations of the police and what is permitted or prohibited under the law. Sex workers can also be informed as to how they can get access to the judicial system to enforce their rights and prevent unnecessary harassment at the hands of traffickers or police.
In the absence of a proper legislation on the matter, in spite of the panel issuing these guidelines in 2016, the court urged all levels of administration to comply with the recommendations till an executive order is in force.
The Union government, meanwhile, has expressed reservations on certain suggestions made my the panel, one of which is that they are entitled to equal protection of law and criminal law must be applied on the basis of 'age and consent.'
The central government has been given a period of six weeks to respond to the the underlined guidelines, and the matter is slated to be heard on 27 July 2022.