Thursday, January 25, 2001, 01:11 GMT

Gita Pandey
in Delhi

Indian prostitutes reject 'beggar' status

AP/Indian prostitutes rally for legalisation and protection
AP/Indian prostitutes rally for legalisation and protection

Sex workers in India have threatened to go to court unless the census commission reverses its decision to include them in the same category as beggars, vagabonds and street children in the forthcoming census.

Their representatives are due to meet the head of the census commission on Thursday morning to voice their objection to the classification.

A non-governmental organisation, Bharatiya Patita Uddhar Sabha, says sex workers are like industrial workers, and that they work very hard to earn their living.

But the registrar-general of the census commission, JK Bantia, says the government does not recognise prostitution as an economic activity.

He says all those who have an unidentified source of income, like thieves, peddlers and beggars, will be classed together in one group for the census, and since prostitution is illegal in India, it has been included with them.

Prostitutes, not beggars

The head of Bharatiya Patita Uddhar Sabha, which works for the welfare of sex workers and their children, has written a letter to the census commission demanding that sex workers be included in the general list.

Sex workers deny that they are like beggars
Sex workers deny that they are like beggars

The NGO's president, Khairati Lal Bhola, says prostitutes do not beg, and that unlike beggars they live and work in defined areas.

Vivia Kapour, a women's rights lawyer who has done some projects on sex workers, says the controversy over the census is because the officials are taking a very judgmental stand on the issue.

She says it is not a good idea for the census to identify and pinpoint who sex workers are.

Call for legalisation

As it is, the sex workers face a lot of problems with the police and authorities and she says identifying them will open them to more harassment.

India has an estimated 2.3 million sex workers, and social activists working with them say it is high time the government legalise prostitution.

They say laws should be amended to give the sex workers certain statutory rights and ensure that they are protected from exploitation.

The gigantic task of counting India's more than one billion people is expected to begin on 9 February and will go on until the end of the month.

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Created: March 11, 2001
Last modified: September 1, 2001
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