Bombay HC sets three sex workers free, says women have right to choose vocation
Observing that prostitution is no offence under the law; an adult woman has the right to choose her vocation and cannot be detained without her consent, the Bombay high court on Thursday set free three sex workers detained at a women’s hostel.
Justice Prithviraj Chavan said the purpose and the object of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (PITA), 1956 is not to abolish prostitution. “There is no provision under the law which makes prostitution per se a criminal offence or punishes a person because he indulges in prostitution,” said the judge.
Clarifying that what is punishable under the law is exploitation or abuse of a person for commercial purposes and soliciting in public places, the court set free the three young women, aged 20, 22 and 23, respectively.
The women were “rescued” by the social service branch of the Mumbai police from Chincholi Binder area in Malad, in September 2019, after laying a trap using a decoy customer. They were produced before a metropolitan magistrate, who remanded them to a women’s hostel and called for a report from a probation officer.
On October 19, 2019, the magistrate refused to hand over the custody of the women to their respective mothers as the magistrate found that it was not in the interest of the women to stay with their parents. The magistrate, instead, directed that the women be kept at a women’s hostel in Uttar Pradesh.
That was because the probation officers’ report revealed that the women were from a particular community from Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, and there was a long tradition of prostitution in the community.
The women had moved the court through advocate Ashok Saraogi after the magistrate’s order was upheld by Dindoshi sessions court on November 22, 2019.
The high court on Thursday struck down both the orders. “It is important to note that the petitioners / victims are major and, therefore, have a right to reside at the place of their choice, to move freely throughout the territory of India and to choose their own vocation, as enshrined the Constitution of India,” said the judge.
The court said the magistrate ought to have considered the willingness and consent of the women before ordering their detention. It added that the magistrate appeared to be swayed by the fact that the petitioners belong to a particular caste and it had long history of initiating girls of the community into prostitution.
The single judge bench added that keeping in mind the interest of the women, the state government can, under PITA, seek directions from the court to send them to corrective homes. institution, but their fundamental rights stand on a higher pedestal vis a vis the statutory right or any other right conferred by a general law.