'Instead of arresting, treat sex workers as victims'

'Instead of arresting, treat sex workers as victims'

The Calcutta High Court. File photo

The Calcutta High Court in a recent order directed that no sex worker exploited for commercial sex can be treated as an accused under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 unless there is concrete evidence that she was involved as a "co-conspirator" in the crime. It also directed investigating officers who are probing cases under the Act to treat sex workers as victims.

“No sex worker exploited shall be arrayed as an accused in the course of investigation/ prosecution of offences under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 until and unless cogent materials come on record that she was also involved as a co-conspirator in the crime,” stated one of the directions issued by the Calcutta High Court in the order.

The directions were issued on Thursday by a Bench of Justice Manojit Mondal and Justice Joymalya Bagchi during the hearing of an anticipatory bail plea by the owner of a health spa where sexual exploitation of women including a minor allegedly took place. The bail plea was subsequently rejected by the Court.

The High Court criticised the investigators for arresting the sex workers, one of whom is a minor, instead of ensuring their protection.

"Having gone through the case diary in the instant case, we are against the harassive nature of investigation conducted by the police officers. They wholly ignored their bounden duty to protect the vulnerable witnesses i.e the exploited sex workers and recorded their statements under 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure...” stated the order.

The Calcutta High Court expressed its displeasure with regard to the role of the Chief Judge of City Sessions Court, Calcutta for granting an adjournment to the “brothel owner” under Section 41 A of the CrPC. Under the section notice of appearance is issued to an accused by police in cases where an arrest is not required.

“Learned judge who was in seisin of the anticipatory bail application of the brothel owner without application of mind whatsoever mechanically permitted adjournment to give effect to such illegal recourse to Section 41 A of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Role of the Public Prosecutor is also not beyond reproach,” stated the order.