Why should we vote? ask the CSWs

Pranita Roy
Monday, 8 April 2019

There are around 3,000 CSWs in Budhwar Peth area, among them only 1,000 have procured voter IDs and few among them utilise their right to vote.

PUNE: Can voting make a difference for the voiceless section in our society, ask the Commercial Sex workers (CSWs). Sex workers of Budhwar Peth in Pune believe that voting dignifies their identity as citizens of India. Nevertheless, their issues have always fallen out of the political spectrum. 

Sex workers have stated that while they are looked at as vote banks, none of their issues has ever been addressed or resolved by any government. This has caused conflict in thoughts – ‘why vote for anyone?’ 

“They (sex workers) lack confidence over any government, as none have worked towards their welfare or creating better opportunities out of this life,” said Tejaswee Sevekari, Executive Director of Saheli, an NGO working for CSWs in Pune.

Those who do vote, have their children’s future in mind. A sex worker from Budhwar Peth, on condition of anonymity, said, “I have nothing to dream for myself now as it is limited to the life am living. But I don’t want my children to be a part of it. I believe that if I vote today, they will someday breathe in a better India, will get good employment opportunity and will be able to make the best out of their life,”  But for many, voting is not on their agenda, and a voter ID is just an identity proof. 

“Getting a voter ID is so difficult for us, just like getting any government identity card. I lost my mother when I was small. My father remarried, but did not bother to keep any of my documents safe,” said another sex worker from Budhwar Peth, who doesn’t even have a birth certificate.

Meena Seshu, Founder of the NGO Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha (SANGRAM) which is aimed at empowering sex workers, said “More than voting, the bigger problem is they don’t have a voter ID. We don’t have facilities to enable migrants to vote. And migration is so high in this community that it is very difficult for them to cast vote. Not many can go back to their place to vote.”

A visit to Budhwar Peth, an area near Shaniwarwada where most of the CSWs reside, revealed that while some of them had knowledge of voting, there were many who were unaware of who the ruling party at Centre is or any present party leaders contesting from Pune. 

“Last time when we had conducted a voting awareness drive, it was observed that they weren’t aware of ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) option,” said Sevekari.

“We informed about its relevance, which few women had used then. But not everyone is enthusiastic about voting. They vote not according to the leader, but the symbol of a party,” she added. 

She said sex workers’ main aim is to earn and work without police intervention and for that they need identification documents like voter ID. 

Widespread apathy is observed among sex workers as they say that often the promises made to them remain unfulfilled, whereas they are looked at as vote banks by political parties. They want one of their representatives to be referred to while making policies related to them.

“Women and child issues have always weighed low in our country. And in this category, sex workers are at the bottom,” said Priti Patkar, Co-Founder of Prerna, an organisation that works for sex workers in Mumbai especially Kamathipura area.

“No issues of sex workers are considered priority on a national level, but their problems are discussed in different ministries surely. The government has intervened in human trafficking only in last ten years and there is a lot much to do to improve the system,” Patkar added. 

“We have to also see if finance ministry wanting to bring out financial inclusion for trafficking victims in the sex trade. I would say the government has shown good intention in improving this sector but it isn’t enough. Even for financial inclusion a survey has been done recently in which about 25 women have been interviewed,” Patkar said. 

- Decriminalisation of sex work.
- Better implementation of health policies for them, like the treatment of HIV/AIDS etc.
- Better rehabilitation and shelter home facilities. 
- Stricter laws of trafficking. 

Everyone has the right to vote. We also like any other citizen of India expect that government works for us. But it is useless for a sex worker to even expect anything. We want the government to treat our work as a profession and not look at it as a crime. Trafficking will be controlled if they decriminalise our work. Further, the government didn’t consider our problems at all to even resolve a bit. We are still trying to overcome the burnt of demonetisation. The Trafficking Bill, 2018 and also which was introduced in 2016, is against us. We can be voters but we cannot contest an election. How are we expected to vote for our right under these circumstances?” said Kiran Deshmukh, a sex worker from Sangli, which has over 600 sex workers who participate in voting.

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