New Year Greetings Amidst Extreme Police Violence Against Sex Workers in Maharashtra

The following is an open letter we sent to Sri Uddhav Thackeray, the Honorable Chief Minister of Maharashtra on the 1st of January 2022.

Dear Hon’ble Shri Thackeray,

On the occasion of New Year, we the women of Maharashtra send you and your family our greetings. We hope that the new year brings a renewed commitment from your government to ensure that the most marginalized communities get the opportunities they have been deprived of such that they are able to lead lives of dignity and equality.

We too are women from one such marginalized and stigmatized community, deeply anguished by the tsunami of violence that has been unleashed on us by the police in Maharashtra, particularly over the past few months. We are barely recovering from the last two years of hunger and despair during the COVID pandemic and lockdown.

However, you ensured that the government identified our specific needs and facilitated the relief due to us as citizens. ₹49.8 crore was given to sex workers for COVID care by the Government of Maharashtra. Various government departments have effectively reached out to us over the last two years: the District AIDS Prevention Control Unit (DAPCU), Welfare Department, Health Department, PRI, Women and Child Department, Social Welfare and Revenue Departments. In some places the district collector, and block tehsildar have also reached out to sex workers.

Despite all these efforts by your government to treat marginalized communities with dignity, the police have launched a series of systematic raids on the homes of sex workers and identified red light areas all over the state including Nagpur, Jalgaon, Nashik and driven thousands of women out of their homes. These raids will not achieve “rescue” and “rehabilitation” of these women but will further stigmatize and criminalize them since they will be driven further underground where they will become more vulnerable to the violence of rowdies and criminal gangs. Hundreds of thousands of sex workers (female, male and transgender) in Maharashtra are not able to come out openly as sex workers and claim the benefits that are due to them. Will the police imprison all these women in jails or rehabilitation homes or give them alternative sources of livelihood overnight?

What the police are doing in the name of law and order and ‘rehabilitation’ is both dehumanizing and criminal. The Supreme Court in its various judgements on sex workers has interpreted the law in ways that are acknowledging the humanity and the rights of women in sex work. The police are flouting the directives laid down by the highest court of the land.

On this the first day of the new year we write to you in distress, but also with hope. Distress that we are being treated like criminals and terrorists, but also with hope that you will take immediate and urgent steps to stop this wave of raids that will further impoverish our women and drive them to despair and destitution.

Yours sincerely,
National Network of Sex Workers

To read a detailed version of this letter, please go here: https://nationalnetworkofsexworkers.medium.com/distressed-and-disappointed-sex-workers-write-to-chief-minister-of-maharashtra-uddhav-thackeray-f9d2790facdc

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National Network of Sex Workers India

NNSW is a national network of sex worker-led organisations and allies committed to promoting the rights of sex workers in India.