Sex Workers and Their Rights in India

3 min readMay 10, 2022
Gangubai Kathiawadi, whose husband sold her at a brothel for Rs 500

I believe that sex workers in India are one of the very vulnerable populations and need a lot more care than ever. I have recently watched this Bollywood movie named “Gangubai Kathiawadi”, this is based on a true-life story of an Indian woman, whose real name was Ganga and belonged to a renowned family from Gujrat, India, before her husband who she eloped, sold her in a brothel and where she was forced to work as a prostitute and her entire life changed.

Even though her life as a sex worker was extremely hard, she was able to rise up and became an influential person in her time because of her love and care for the other women around her and her determination to seek rights and justice for all the sex workers after experiencing how poorly and badly sex workers were being treated and discriminated by the society in all the aspects of their lives. From hospitals, banks, schools, and even in the neighborhood sex workers were stigmatized as a ‘shameful group of women’ which caused them to be excluded from getting their basic rights of education, citizenship, and health care services. Even if they do get any basic treatments from the hospitals or clinics, it's usually through some private contacts or connections which of course is a lot more expensive than regular treatments because most of the time, the providers who provide sex workers with health or educational services, are also concerned about coming into the light about their encounters with ‘sex workers’ in any form as it can end up making them look bad in the eyes of society as well due to the reputation those sex workers hold.

Sadly, the nature of stigmatization and discrimination against the sex workers in India is such a norm in their societies, communities, educational, and health sectors because of people’s perspectives, where they judge sex workers and treat them differently or rather rudely, just because they are sex workers.

At both, primary and secondary levels, there is a huge lack of respect for sex workers in India, mostly by men as the majority of the sex workers are women in India.

Being a patriarchal and male-dominant country, women in the sex work field often face violence, threats, and hardships including other discrimination. Such discrimination cause health inequalities for the sex workers and the potential health outcomes are varied for them as well but it shouldn't be like this, just like every other profession, this is also a way of life and the source of money for some individuals to survive in this world.

According to one of the surveys by the member of the National Network of Sex Workers (NNSW) less than 35% of the households in the sex workers' community were able to acquire birth certificates, thus the lack of their identities leads them to have no easy access to many basic services like schools, housing, and health care. Among those health care services are the most concerning since the nature of their work is very risky and public hospitals don’t welcome sex workers the majority of the time so many sex workers end up getting private health services. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, the stigmatization of the sex workers was at its worst because the sex workers became even more vulnerable because they were excluded from the government relief packages along with many other basic medical needs and services.

Although sex work is legal in India and should not be considered a crime but people are not ready to accept it. Even today, sex workers are facing many problems in their everyday life. This is sad and this stigmatization needs to end as they are simply doing their jobs like the rest of the world. They should equally be respected and given full rights in all the services including housing, schooling, and most importantly healthcare.