Punish the customer, not the women: Activist Ruchira Gupta on human trafficking laws in India

Female Writers Sexually Harassed, Dress policing girls

In yet another case of human trafficking, a high-profile sex racket reportedly run by 62-year-old Pritindra Nath Sanyal in New Delhi has grabbed headlines over the past few days.  Sanyal was running an agency pimping women from Central Asia to defence officials and politicians to seal deals in agreements and businesses, and has since been arrested. As is common in these cases, the women involved are foreign nationals.

In an exclusive conversation with SheThePeople.TV, Ruchira Gupta, India’s pioneering social activist fighting against sex trafficking and Founder of NGO Apne Aap Women Worldwide discusses why these sex rackets are difficult to bust and how can the Indian government help the women exploited in these rackets. “Since the nature of the trade is underground, it becomes difficult to find and nab the buyers and the customers. Like a brothel is easy to see but what Sanyal was doing, he was running it from inside his apartment because of this, they can even get away with it. Also they do have police protection involved where the police may either be getting hafta (protection money) or free services,” she reasons.

How the law deals with Sex Rackets 

Why is that we our laws punish women and the pimp and never the customer? Does this become an easy way out for anyone who is using such services to escape the law proceedings? Asks Ruchira. “And that too the pimp has very light sentence so the women are put through criminal justice system either for being an illegal immigrant or for soliciting. This is the reason why women are scared to come forward as witnesses as they are scared of being deported or arrested.”

“Very often the customers these women encounter are powerful men and if they really complain about them, it’s only going to be them who are going to suffer,” adds Gupta about the plight of trafficked women from other parts of the world.

Also read: Is decriminalization of Sex Trade the answer or is legalization?

Exploitation of Trafficked women 

Though for some of these women, personal choice guides their motive of getting involved in prostitution, Gupta suggests that choice should not be a reason for exploitation. She adds that choice can be under very different circumstances majorly poverty. The racket also leads to fraudulent confiscation of passport, physical violence (like in this sex racket the girl was found with whiplash marks), and verbal abuse in many cases.

Other ways of exploitation are keeping away documents, paying low wages, not giving a work contract and not providing adequate housing. Also the girls are trafficked to be penetrated so that itself has its own mental and physical consequences which cannot be legislated away, all this come under very many levels of exploitation women go through, as explained by Gupta.

Also read: Mayawati v/s BJP: Rants of prostitution, oppression, liberation or confusion?

We need to shift the blame from the women to the perpetrators and buyers

What needs to be done legally 

According to Gupta, the women trafficked should be given proper care by the government. “Like in the United States, if a woman is trafficked and is forced into sex trade, she is given free visa to stay in the country. Adequate housing, a lawyer, health support and livelihood training are some other amenities provided to the survivor women in the US.”

“We need to shift the blame from the women to the perpetrators and buyers,” resolves Gupta who has been working against sex trafficking for over 25 years now. She is also the recipient of Emmy Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for her documentary, The Selling of Innocents.

Also read: Child trafficking, the big fight: Padma Shri Sunitha Krishnan

She calls for the adoption of the Nordic Model which does the same and has been implemented by many countries like Iceland, Sweden, Norway and France. Gupta conceives that there should be amendment in the laws to punish the buyers and the perpetrators and not the women. “The government needs to go after the pimps, the politicians, the defence officials involved in such cases.”

About a sex racket that she witnessed and helped bust she recalls, “I remember witnessing a sex racket that was running in Bihar in 2013. We worked with the government as it was a very responsive government and we actually got 66 traffickers arrested. There the traffickers were using the traditional ways like working in the melas (fairs) to catch women.”

She concludes that the way to deal with such cases is to provide women better education, more livelihood opportunities and right to inherit property.

Feature Image Credit: dna.com

More Stories by Poorvi Gupta