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Civil society gears up to protest "disparaging" remarks on sex workers, transgenders by Govt of India minister

By Our Representative
A civil society group has floated a memorandum taking strong exception to what it calls "disparaging anti-women, anti sex-worker and anti-transgender person remarks in Parliament" this week by Maneka Gandhi, Minister, Women and Child Development, Government of India, during the discussion on Anti-Trafficking Bill, 2018. Released by members of the Coalition on Inclusive Approach and proposed to be given to the minister, it seeks signatures from concerned citizens.
"In case you wish to endorse, please send in your name via WhatsApp and/or e-mail to Shakun @  9448480954 | shakun00@gmail.com" it says.
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Text of the memorandum:
We the undersigned organisations and individuals strongly condemn the disparaging remarks made by you as the Minister for Women and Child Department, particularly against sex workers and transgender persons while responding to some objections raised on the Anti-Trafficking Bill 2018 on 26th, July 2018. We represent 250 organisations working across the country with women, children, sex workers, transgender individuals, workers in the informal economy including bonded labour, garment workers, domestic workers and construction workers, under the banner of the Coalition on an Inclusive Approach to the Trafficking Bill, working to ensure that the Bill does not criminalise and further stigmatise the vulnerable communities it purports to save and rehabilitate.
Many of the statements you made not only reinforce our apprehensions about the apparently draconian approach of the Bill but they also reinforce the stigma, marginalisation, violence and discrimination faced by these communities on a daily basis. Specifically, while responding Dr Shashi Tharoor’s comprehensively argued critique you suggestively and contemptuously stated, “Here I will be wicked. There are two types of representatives who came to me. One was the Victims of Trafficking and the other was sex workers. Dr Tharoor accompanied the sex workers."
At another point you shockingly claimed that you did not know how to address transgender persons and in fact referred to them as ‘other ones’, laughing and making gestures which clearly conveyed deep disrespect to the transgender persons’ lives, which are full of struggle, due to familial, societal and state neglect, discrimination and violence. This, coming from you, the Minister, has in a way, reinforced the prejudice that is still largely prevalent against transgender persons and we would like to place on record our utmost dismay at the same.
On both occasions it was equally distasteful and appalling to see that the men sitting behind you smirking and thumping the tables. Your inappropriate conduct indignified not just the significant, high office that you hold and the sanctity of Parliament, which represents the ‘will of the people’, but more importantly, the women and transgender individuals of this country.
We also wish to convey our appreciation of the Speaker who took exception to the laughter in the House and stated that there was nothing wrong or unparliamentarily in Dr Tharoor accompanying a delegation of sex workers to meet you since he was representing their interests. We also acknowledge the reaffirming remarks by Supriya Sule (MP) urging you not to address transgender persons as ‘other ones’ and address their concerns vis-à-vis the Anti-Trafficking Bill, 2018.
Your assertion also that it is time for the government to stop “tolerating” issues like begging, sex work etc. was disconcerting since you were presenting a Bill supposedly targeting criminals trafficking vulnerable people into begging, sex work etc and not these “victims” themselves. When vigilantes are today lynching suspected child lifters based only on rumours, irresponsible statements like these from law makers such as yourself will only serve to legitimise such vigilantism and jeopardise the lives of many in vulnerable situations.
Unfortunately, your statements serve to reinforce the growing divide between those working to stop trafficking through criminalisation and those addressing it through a more community-based approach that affirms the dignity and rights of the survivors of trafficking. While the former groups have been central to the process of the Bill, the latter have been kept out of all consultative processes despite the best efforts of many to over the past two years. Instead their efforts at engagement have been discredited and individuals demonised as “promoters” of trafficking.
We trust that you will formally withdraw your unparliamentarily and crude remarks about women and transgender individuals, and in the interests of democracy and justice take on board the concerns we have expressed such that the rights and dignity of adult sex workers, transgender persons, migrant workers, beggars and other vulnerable communities impacted by the Bill will be protected and restored.

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