Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) is registered community based organization of sex workers in West Bengal, having a membership of over 65,000 female, transgender and male sex workers. DMSC works closely with the National AIDS Control Organisation, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India (NACO) through West Bengal State AIDS Prevention and Control Society, to support their mandate of prevention and control of HIV/AIDS in the country. India’s success in containing the spread of HIV has been largely attributed to the peer-led, rights-based interventions with female sex workers, which NACO has been implementing for over two decades and where the community of sex workers has played a pivotal role. We with other concern civil society organizations have seen the public notice dated 06.07.2021 on inviting comments and suggestions on the Draft Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021. According to the public notice, the deadline for submitting comments is 14.07.2021. At the outset, we thank the MWCD for posting the Draft Bill for comments in the public domain. We however, regret to note that while the Ministry has taken over two years to draft the Bill, affected groups and communities have been given less than two weeks to share our views and feedback. Further, the said Bill likely the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA), criminalises sex workers and free choice of sex work as profession in its crux. So sex workers will face problems under both the Trafficking Bill and the ITPA.
As the Draft Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021 is a complex document that covers aspects of criminal justice and social support and rehabilitation for victims. It traverses provisions of other laws like the National Investigation Agency Act, 2008, the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, 1999, the Information and Technology Act, 2000, the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002, which need to be understood in the context of the Draft Bill. The short notice given by the MWCD for submitting feedback does not do justice to the complexity and importance of the subject. DMSC and other civil society organisations and members are concerned that the Draft Bill conflates trafficking in persons with sex work, which may have significant consequences for the community. Our members, partners would like the opportunity to examine the Bill and its clauses carefully in order to make comments and suggestions to the Government. The tight deadline given by the MWCD does not allow us to communicate and consult with our members, which is spread across the state of West Bengal including in towns and cities that are still under lockdown or restricted movement orders on account of the second wave of Covid-19. Since the Draft Bill is only available in English, we also need time to factor in translation in local vernacular language.
Sex workers are allies in anti-trafficking efforts and their role and participation was considered necessary by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in Budhadev Karmaskar v State of West Bengal, Criminal Appeal NO(s). 135 of 2010, wherein the Court appointed a Panel to deliberate and make recommendations on the subject. Durbar Mahila Samanvaya Committee – the oldest sex workers collective in the country served on the Panel and made important contributions to the proceedings. We hope that the principle of ‘Nothing about us, without us’ – which was given effect to the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the Panel, will continue to be followed by the Ministry in letter and spirit. In view of the above, we requested the MWCD to extend the deadline for submitting comments /suggestions on the Draft Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021 Bill by four weeks, that is, 13 August 2021 so as to enable the meaningful participation of citizens and affected groups in public policy and legislation.