Sex workers: The voiceless stories, the pointless myths
Daughter:- (murmuring songs) Wearing a shiny dress and applying red lipstick.
Mother:- (in agitation) What are you doing?
Daughter:- (seeing herself in the mirror and smiling) Mom, see I am getting ready for Ruhi’s Birthday Party. Oh, I look so pretty!
Mother:- This is not how good girls dress.
Daughter:- (confused face)What do you mean by a ‘good girl’ dressing? What mumbo-jumbo is this?
Mother:- Don’t ask me these questions. Your parents’ wishes should be your command.
She goes to the party with a bewildered face in a plain white dress.
THE FOLLOWING DAY (going in a car with her parents)
Daughter:- Mom! Mom! You see the lady there wearing those clothes that you asked me not to wear. Is she not a good girl?
Mother:- Stop! Don’t say a word now!
AT HOME (The daughter overhears the conversation between her parents)
Mother:- You saw that girl in bright clothes and red lipstick, what was she doing there alone standing? Was she waiting for someone?
Father:- Whatever, we need to keep our daughter away from talking about or seeing these things. Society would have created a thousand make-believe scenarios, had you not stepped in at the last moment.
Here, we welcome you to the world of stereotypes and stigmas.
When a woman comes late at night with red lipstick and shiny clothes, she is asked questions with raised eyebrows and speculative looks. Her character is questioned, her morals are judged and her family is condemned. But, nobody realises that she is doing this to collect money and support her child’s education or pay her house loan or buy essential items.
What do we think? She always does it because it is her choice. NO, It is also about conditions, circumstances, income constraints and poverty. They need to cross hurdles at every step of theirs- Self-conscience, Family constraints and yes, Society. Do you still think working in dingy brothels which act as breeding grounds for sexual assaults and sexually transmitted diseases is always voluntary?
Don’t you ever think they also have dreams, aspirations and desires? But, how can we forget we put restrictions to dream due to somebody’s nature of job?
Kanta also had a dream, just one because sex workers aren’t “allowed” to have many, in fact not even one. She dreamt of a day when she could live with dignity and pride. But she wondered if she was asking for too much.
Today she had time to sit back and think. These initial two days of menstruation every month, when she had no choice but to skip the work, were both a boon and a bane. These two days meant no work because her heavy flow and cramps wouldn’t allow her but no work ultimately meant no money. She had tried hiding it once using a sponge, only to be “caught” with a bleeding vagina and be abused for that.
At the same time, these were the only two days in a month when she could rest. Too often this rest meant just one meal a day; or worse, sleeping with an empty stomach. But of course, no complaints!
Unbearable pain in her abdomen suddenly burst the bubble of her thoughts. She could not muster the power to move but scream as hard as she could. The vaginal itching was gradually increasing, while her patience was declining. One of her co-workers rushed and brought a towel soaked in hot water, the only remedy they had for period cramps. The pain subsided after a while, but the itching did not. She desperately needed to see a doctor, but who would pay the fees?
What did we deduce from this?
They are being misjudged due to something as unimportant as people’s perceptions as that perception is depriving them of their natural, inalienable rights- the right to live, the right to freedom of labour, health and reproductive and sexual rights. Who gave the right to one human to judge the other? In what way is violence justified as a means of asserting sexual control? We believe NO ONE.
It is well said, “ Changes do not occur in a day, but require a revolution.” And, the first wind of change has already started blowing with the Supreme Court breaking the vicious cycle of marginalization and violence by awarding the sex workers with their long lost fundamental rights. It was important to realize that when something can’t be eliminated, it is definitely better to regulate it. This will not hold them back from approaching courts, accessing health services, and most importantly, moving with pride and dignity.
But, we believe legislation alone is not enough in itself but is the first footstep towards a bigger, better and bolder change. It is time when we humans stop JUDGING someone’s way to make two ends meet that too without choice. Let us embrace and respect each other. At times, silently watching injustice unfold is a greater crime than committing it.
Every year, June 2 is observed as International Sex Workers’ Day to honour them for every stride they take to face an added stereotype. It is to uplift them from their abysmal state of living and accord them the respect they deserve.
-Jatin Gulati and Shubhra Jain