Taking moral policing up several notches, a first-time woman corporator elected of a Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) ticket has decided to ‘discipline’ sex workers by erecting a flex board in Mandai — the city’s oldest vegetable market. The board erected on a pole in the market warns Commercial Sex Workers (CSWs) against soliciting clients at the market, as it tarnishes the image of the area. It also threatens anyone found doing so with ‘MNS-style’ retaliation.
Though the board endorsed by Rupali Patil-Thombre, MNS corporator from Mahatma Phule, Mandai ward, does not mention what action will be taken, social activists have reacted strongly to the message it carries. Also, when an official from the municipal corporation was asked whether the board on display legally, he said that he was not aware of such a board. The police of the area also said that there have been no complaints regarding the sex workers creating a nuisance.
Interestingly, the hoarding lacks any mention about proposed action against whosoever engages sex workers at the mandai. The board clearly states that such activities are tarnishing the image of the oldest vegetable market in the cultural capital of the state. Social activists said that such behaviour from a woman corporator is undemocratic and unconstitutional and impinges on the sex worker’s basic rights. Tejaswi Sevekari, director of Saheli — a Non Governmental Organisation that work extensively for the rehabilitation of commercial sex workers — termed it as a mere stunt by the party.“It is nothing but moral policing. It’s true that sometimes sex workers wait for the customer on the road leading to Mandai, but they never create a nuisance. Instead of threatening to take action against them, why doesn’t the corporator of the area try to help them by solving their issues?” Sevekari said. Sanyogita Dhamdhere of the Centre for Advocacy and Research, who works for women empowerment issues, heard about the board during a meeting with the sex workers. Dhamdhere said that the women know about the message on the board, but couldn’t raise their voices against political muscle power. “The politicians are setting an example of hatred and discrimination against the CSWs. These women are often forced into prostitution and continue, as it becomes their only source of livelihood. And even if they want to get out, society does not allow them to do so,” Dhamdhere said.
Kiran Moghe, president of All India Democratic Women’s Association termed the MNS corporator’s act as undemocratic and unconstitutional. She said the city belongs to everyone and no political party can show their ownership on it. “The message on the board shows the insensitivity of the people’s representatives, who never make any comprehensive plan or raise questions on the weak socio-economic status of the CSWs,” Moghe said. She added that such messages about that particular section of society are a violation of human rights. When Assistant Municipal Commissioner Arun Khilari of Vishrambaug ward office was questioned, he said that no one had taken permission before displaying such a board in Mandai.
“We didn’t receive any application for displaying the board. If I had received the application, I would not have given permission for such a hoarding in Mandai,” Khilari said. Police Sub-Inspector UN Londhe of Mandai police chowky said when asked whether any complaints have been coming in that the CSWs do not create any nuisance in the area.
The other side
Thombre said her decision to display such a board in Mandai is justified, as that is not an appropriate place for ‘those’ women to stand. “We have no objection if those women stand on the streets at Budhwar Peth (the red light area of the city), but they should not stand and behave improperly in the decent areas of the city,” Thombre said. She added that the CSWs who stand near Mandai are from outside the state and therefore she cannot work on issues related to them. The corporator said that respectable women of the area had complained to her regarding the CSWs creating a nuisance in Mandai.