Police Assault and abuse of women in sex work, found on the highway : A Case Study

Date: 07/06/2022

Dharani Mahila Welfare Society, Eluru, West Godavari.

Victim details:

· B-42 years , husband dead , 4 daughters (married)
· R-27 years , husband left , three children , Ramalakshmi parents.
· M -28 years , husband alcoholic , two children.
· LL-32 years , husband left , one female child , one male child

belong to the Bhogam caste — a caste of people who earn their livelihood through sex work.

Problem ; -

Police Assault and abuse of women in sex work, found on the highway .

Details: -

On the 5th of June 2022, Bujji, Ramalakshmi, Mahalakshmi, and Chinnalakshmi — all four from chenchu colony, Lambada area, set out in an auto for sex work in Eluru, Dobicherla Area. The destination is a one and a half hour journey from their place. They left via (Highway) Lakshmipuram at 7 pm for their work. They usually see the clients between 11 pm to 4 pm and come back. Due to heavy rain the auto was parked for a while on the side and then they continued their journey little later. Little did they realise that Mr. Sudhir Babu, SI of Dwarka Tirumala station was following them in his Jeep, and soon his speeding jeep overtook them and stopped in front of the auto. He in his loud voice asked all of them to get out. When the auto stopped, and the driver got down, SI gave tight slaps, and let him off, when he pleaded that he was only ferrying them for a ride and never knew that they were Sex workers. Then, he turned at the four women and shouted at them to get off the auto. Bujji got down first and told him that, they are from Lambada area do sex work for their living and, pointing to the box, he asked what was inside, and she replied that it was condoms and that they take precautions, which prevents them from infection. Hearing this ,the enraged SI shouted at her “you whore, are you not ashamed to say this, you all are bullocks, you come here on to the roads to run over? (meaning as if Sex workers are the cause of accidents) why can’t you do some proper work and live?” He started hitting Chinnalakshmi hard on her breasts with lathi. Mahalakshmi and Ramalakshmi are both thin, short, young women, so he looked at Bujji and said in a loud voice, “you oldie, are you spoiling the life of these young ones?” She replied saying that they are not young, they are married, but destitute and abandoned by their husbands. She said they are not as young as you presume, they are the breadwinners for their families and have old parents/ dependents to take care of. He beat them softly, but gave Bujji severe blows. Bujji said that she has three children, one is 27 years old, one is 21 and the other is 36. Realising the intensity of the situation, others also said, we came on our own, she (Bujji) did not induct us into this. Forty year old Bujji, a diabetic patient fainted because she was unable to bear his beatings. He did not stop even then, he yelled at the top of his voice saying “don‘t play dramas and disappear from here, if I see you here, again, I will kill you” and moved away. They came home by the same auto mourning with pain.

Unable to bear the pain, they met the Registered Medical Practitioner, traditional healer (RMP). Bujji has four daughters, so she did not want to share this brutal attack, as it might “boomerang” and affect her daughters (Her elder daughter was recently married off). The other lady has two children and her parents, she did not want this to be disclosed/ known in her neighbourhood, as it might take a toll on them. They might be evicted, rendering them homeless. The RMP was kind hearted and suggested that they can file a police case or go to media, but they kept mum for two days wreathing in pain, only on the night of the second day, they gathered themselves and called Ratnakumari (Dharani Mahila welfare Society — Sexworker CBO) and shared the incident with her, she said we will go to the police station.

She called AHREADS, a local NGO for support, they backed her by sending their Outreach Worker to represent the case to the local Government Authorities. Dharani CBO letter was used, ME and My world AP Network of Sexworkers were mentioned, Letter was prepared on the 8th June and went to meet the Superintendent of Police. Security personnel objected their entry did not allow all women to get inside the Reception.

They protested, they said We are women’s Sangam, even then they did not allow them to enter reception, (lounge) of the officer of the Superintendent of Police. Security repeatedly asked them what the matter was, why did they want to talk to the Police Boss, and why they all came together.

All women in one voice said Police Beat us.

The security said, in a gruff voice, “No, police would not beat you, why would he?” Ratnakumari showed and explained SC orders citing 10 and 11 page which spoked about right to uphold dignity of the sex worker, and police had no business to abuse them. She narrated to the security the extent of harm caused by police action.

Then he calmed down a bit, and said SP is in a conference, go sit under a tree, we will call you.

But, it so happened that , a Woman constable who was watching this all the while said they are from women’s organisation, they should be allowed to sit inside the (grievance) reception Hall. Even there, they were told that they cannot allow all inside the room , may be four victims can go to meet the SP. (We do not know if this was because of COVID protocols).

After two hours they called them in, they explained to the Police Chief about the bruises, scars caused by police blows on thighs, on breasts etc. He immediately responded positively and said I will call and talk to the SI, right away and asked all of them to leave. So, they returned back.

The SP indeed (Police chief of the District) had called immediately and warned strictly.

But, women did not stop there, they wanted stringent action to be taken. Two women went to the emergency ward along with Outreach workers, community members and few Board Members of Community Based Organisation. They explained the situation to the doctor, He said I will call the nurse and you can show her your wound, but the women said, you are a doctor and we do not mind showing our bruises/scars — the nurse was called in, and she explained the same to the doctor.

He immediately filed a Medico Legal Case, they asked them to wait in the room, the Police Court constable was busy taking statements from someone else. Victim had to wait for hours before he arrived to note down the MLC case. It was a long wait till 3.30pm, from 11.30 am. Police constable when he saw the victims at last asked — what was the complaint/report all about? Bujji promptly said, we are sex workers. Police constable just could not take it, he said “Are you not ashamed to say you are in sex work? Is it not a crime?” Along with the victim, other women told him that sex work is their living and livelihood. She raised her voice and said, we were brutally beaten, after hearing her story, he said please wait, and slowly tried to move away, as if he had some other call to attend. However, that was not the case. He called the concerned SI, and promptly informed him that an MLC is filed against him on the behest of women’s organisation. He was told about Network of Sex workers too. Without wasting a second, the police court constable got the phone call connected to the SI and he pleaded the victims to talk to SI.

Ratnakumari fearlessly spoke about his brutality, but he went into “denial” mode saying he just beat her once, but Ratnakumari said, sir, you are lying, she has several bruises on her body, and we have all evidences. Hearing this, he was scared and said please do not file this as a case, please drop it here, I am really sorry for my action. I have done this mistake for once and this will be the last time. If you wish, I will come down to meet the victims and ask for their forgiveness.

When she heard this, she could not believe her ears, she forwarded the call to Ms. R Meera, Supporter of Me and My world network and NNSW Supporters. SI was trying to defend himself saying he was only trying to prevent accidents on the highway and that Sex workers were causing distraction. Ms. Meera emphatically said that it was beside the point, it had no connection with his brutal behaviour and that it is unconstitutional. He got terrified because of the evidence that Sex workers had with them and the support that they received, he feared suspension.

The next day he was willing to apologise to all the victims and asked whether they would like to meet him at the Police station or if he should he come down to meet them. All ten women decided that they will meet the SI, at his police station. Again seeing women in a group, he got jittery and said, “please forgive me, what has happened has happened, it is in the past, I will never repeat this again.”

In the end he said I should not see young girls in sex work, to that they all said in one voice that there are no underage girls and they are only voluntary Sex workers, and he asked what kind of compensation they would demand from him.

They all said in one voice, we do not need compensation, treat us like humans, that is enough, we will do our work. Then he suggested that they must not make the customers gang up in the highway, this may cause accidents. They must send them all as quickly as possible. He said “I have come here a month back, have seen four accidents and two have died, even the deceased have families and they suffer, so do not crowd up the highway.”

The SI apologising was a victory of sorts for the sex workers and all women in the community.

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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.