NEW DELHI: A Panel formed in 2011 to protect the rights of sex-workers and suggest measures to help them live a life with dignity has recommended that police should not interfere or harass those sex-workers who are “participating with consent” in it.

The panel was formed at the recommendation of a Justice Markanday Katju in 2011 and is slated to submit its report in March this year. It was constituted of senior counsels Pradip Ghosh and Jayant Bhushan, along with NGOs working for the alleviation of sex-workers in the country.

In its recommendations the panel has noted that “Whenever there is a raid on a brothel, since voluntary sex work is not illegal and only running the brothel is unlawful, the sex workers should not be arrested or penalised or harassed or victimised.”

Prostitution in India is legal per se but there are a host of peripheral sections under the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA) that allow the law enforcers to harass and book sex-workers, even those who are in it with their consent.

The panel has also suggested the abolishing of Section 8 of the ITPA Act which prohibits “soliciting” of customers by sex workers, saying that it has been highly misused by the law enforcement agencies. The section 8 of ITPA explains soliciting as, “Seducing or soliciting for purpose of prostitution.—Whoever, in any public place or within sight of, and in such manner as to be seen or heard from, any public place, whether from within any building or house or not.” It is punishable with six months in jail or a fine of Rs 500.

The panel has also proposed a mechanism which enables the sex-workers who wish to leave the profession and start anew. India is home to 1.2 million sex-workers, many of whom are forced into it either by their own relatives or they choose to go into it because of crushing poverty. The panel also observed that police apathy is also responsible for harassment of the prostitutes since they consider the latter as “different” from the rest and are very often unwilling to help them.

“When a sex worker makes a complaint of criminal/ sexual/ any other type of offence, police must take it seriously and act in accordance with law,” the panel recommended.

Justice Markanday Katju, who had suggested that a panel be formed to look into the plight of prostitutes, had cited the examples of Amrapali from Indian ancient history and Sonya Marmelodov, a sex-worker from Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Of latter he had then noted, “"Sonya is depicted as a girl who sacrifices her body to earn some bread for her impoverished family," and had observed that law-enforcers and society should get sensitive to sex-workers’ situations saying, "Society must have sympathy towards the sex workers and must not look down upon them. They are also entitled to a life of dignity in view of Article 21 of the Constitution."