The Rot Association of Meghalaya (RAM), an organisation representing sex workers in the state, has expanded on their recent open letter that has created something of a storm recently by bringing to the fore a discussion on the decriminalisation of sex work.
RAM’s letter on March 12 condemned “humiliating” comments made by MLAs in the Assembly last week and called for the decriminalisation of their work, a demand that stirred others to oppose any such move.
In a further letter, written in the first person but signed by three people – RAM President I Kharmuti, General Secretary P Mylliemngap and Publicity Secretary D Mawlong, RAM explored in greater depth the need, it says for the decriminalisation of sex work and a rethinking by feminists on the issue.
Like many others, RAM’s senior figures said that, when they first began considering the issue, they also wondered why anyone would freely choose to get into prostitution. Over time, and through further conversations, they were led to the realisation that “for many people sex work is a logical choice,” a realisation that went against teachings that are inculcated from a very early age with regards to sex.
In 2011 RAM held its first official get together where participants spoke about the violence that they faced in Meghalaya, “from student union leaders, politicians and police officers in particular, who arrest and rape them before robbing them of their earnings.”
One of the chief reasons that sex workers often face violence stems from the fact that their services are illegal, which makes them less likely to approach the authorities if they are assaulted.
“So, we call for its decriminalisation – a demand long made by several sex worker activists in the country,” the letter stated.
Other than physical assault, sex workers also bear the brunt of being stigmatised for what they do, sometimes even from feminists, who, RAM said, “conflate the trade with human trafficking” even though there is a clear difference – “sex work is undertaken by consenting adults and human trafficking is not.”
Listening to the people who are most affected by the issue helped RAM’s founders gain a better understanding of it.
“Sadly, the issue of sex workers’ rights here in matrilineal Meghalaya continues to be a point of tension for the feminist movement and there are too many feminists who today feel how I felt 10 years ago when I put together RAM,” the letter added. “All I can encourage those feminists to do is to open their hearts and minds and to listen to sex workers.”
Advocating for sex workers’ rights is a fundamental step in the global battle to end violence against women and girls, RAM stated, concluding by saying, “It is time for us all to suspend judgement and to join sex workers in advocating for rights and justice for all… Because, after all, we’re humans too!”