I Mohammad Kalam from the Nat Community, working with Apne Aap Women Worldwide for the past ten years to end sex-trafficking and prostitution and have been facing false trafficking charges since June 2012.
I come from the Nat community, a De-Notified Tribe in India where women and girls are forced into inter-generational prostitution in their home-based brothels. They are stigmatized by mainstream society for which girls from the community are deprived of their basic rights to education, to livelihood, to a safe space, to legal protection and to a life of dignity. They are forced to remain in prostitution by their families and mainstream society.
I have always wanted to fight for the rights of the girls and women of our community, so that they can access opportunities of education, livelihood and come out of this situation of modern day slavery. I have even tried to get traffickers arrested on various occasions.
Unfortunately, some members of the community along with the traffickers and Johns, brought false allegations against me for trafficking girls. The police, without any proper investigation framed charges against me. I was wrongly detained in prison for 5 days, after which I was released on bail.
Till now, the charge-sheet of the case has not been submitted by the police, as they know that the case is false. Yet this sword of being wrongly prosecuted still dangles over my head.
Therefore, I want the Superintendent of Police, Araria District, Bihar to immediately withdraw all charges against me .
I appeal to you all to join me in my campaign to free myself from all false allegations in order to enable me to continue my work and motivate and free many others, like me, from fear of actively joining the struggle.
We the undersigned- victims and survivors of prostitution, women’s groups representing marginalized communities of caste, class and ethnicity, and anti-trafficking organizations representing those trapped in bonded labor and other forms of servitude, would like UN Women to circulate a new note on sex trafficking and prostitution recognizing the realities of our lives.
1. We do not want to be called ‘sex workers’ but prostituted women and children, as we can never accept our exploitation as “work.” We think that the attempts in UN documents to call us “sex workers” legitimizes violence against women, especially women of discriminated caste, poor men and women, and women and men from minority groups, who are the majority of the prostituted.
2. Body invasion is inherent to prostitution and cannot be legislated away. If we accept prostitution as work, the UN needs to hold consultations with all Member States and civil society representatives as it will be in contravention of UN standards defining what is accepted labour and livelihood. The nature of work should not be different for one class or caste of human beings just because they are socially and economically weaker. This would be in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
3. We want you to recognize that the majority of prostitution is an outcome of trafficking, as defined in the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, where the “abuse of a position of vulnerability” is recognized as a method of trafficking. It is our vulnerabilities that are taken advantage of to seduce, trick, coerce or force us into prostitution. These vulnerabilities are based on our caste (De-notified Tribes, Dalits, OBCs), class (families from where women and girls are mostly trafficked earn less than INR 25 per day), sex (majority of those who are prostituted are women and girls), and ethnicity (Hill Tribes). We are denied access to education, land, livelihood, capital and often to justice. Traffickers take advantage of this by offering us food, a bed, some cash, jobs, marriage, housing. Local and legal authorities that take pay-offs or free services from us often abet them.
4. We want you to recognize that our survival strategies are not a choice, but rather an absence of choice.
5. By legitimizing prostitution as a form of “work” and delinking prostitution from trafficking, we feel that UN Women has let down marginalized girls and women by not even providing proper consultations. It seems, that UN Women’s policies are controlled and influenced by AIDS management agencies, who want to protect male clients/Johns from disease, rather than women and girls from repeated rape by male clients.
6. We ask that UN Women advocate with other UN agencies, as the agency charged with representing the voices of women, to recognize that commercial rape is the same as non-commercial rape and to remove all demands advocating for decriminalizing pimping and brothel-keeping. We want an end to impunity for all those who take advantage of our vulnerabilities to sexually exploit us. We want them to be held accountable and we want laws that penalize and punish them. By calling for the decriminalization of pimping, UN agencies are effectively helping the sex-industry and impeding our access to justice.
We want UN Women to stand by agreed-upon international conventions and protocols, including:
To retreat from these protocols would be illegal and unethical.
We therefore ask UN Women to circulate a revised note calling for more gender-sensitive language in all UN documents, recognizing and promoting the rights of girls and women from lower caste, minorities and other marginalized groups. In particular:
1. We request that UN Women changes the word “sex worker” in all documents to “victims and survivors of prostitution” or “prostituted women and children.”
2. We request that UN Women acknowledges that the majority of prostitution is an outcome of trafficking and calls upon all states and UN agencies to reduce the vulnerabilities of women and girls that make them easy prey for traffickers.
As citizens of countries including India, Nepal and Bangladesh, we are surprised that UN Women could issue a note without consulting Member States or Civil Society representatives. Both the note and its subsequent clarification contradicts international law, as detailed in the conventions and protocols mentioned above.
The Indian Immoral Traffic Prevention Act has been failing to protect girls and women from sex trafficking. It criminalizes and stigmatizes trafficking victims and allows the true perpetrators of crime – traffickers, pimps, johns – to exploit women and children with impunity.
In 2012, you joined the members of Apne Aap Women Worldwide in a global call to change outdated policies and empower women and girls. We submitted your 10,000 signatures to the office of the president of India and the Ministry of Women and Child and received a letter back from the ministry, saying that our recommendations had been taken on. Apne Aap has also been told told that our proposed amendment to ITPA has been seen by the Ministry of Women and Child Development and has been submitted to the Law Ministry for final drafting, before it goes to the cabinet for approval. It will then be put before Parliament. Two of our recommendations have been incorporated into the amendment: 1) the decriminalization of women in prostitution; 2) more severe punishment for traffickers (up to 7 years in prison, 5 lakhs). Our third recommendation for the punishment of Johns has not been incorporated, so we will continue to campaign for this.
Thank you for your support!
In 2012, we asked you to stand against harassment of our staff by the Bihar police.
Mohammad Kalam has dedicated his life to fighting the sex-trafficking industry that ensnared his own sisters. Through his work at Apne Aap, he has helped to arrest 51 sex traffickers and put 23 girls in school. In June, the police arrested Kalam and brought false charges against him.
Many of you signed the petition to see charges dropped against Kalam. We have some encouraging updates on this situation. Kalam is out of jail, and the police officer who arrested him was sent away for three months leave and re-training. Charges against the police officer are being investigated. The NHRC has summoned the director general of police in Bihar to submit an action-taken report on this miscarriage of justice. Apne Aap has filed a public interest litigation in the high court of Bihar asking for structural adjustment so this type of situation doesn’t happen again. We continue to campaign to ensure police are working with, not against, anti-trafficking activists around the world.