Share via Email If prostitution is a system based on supply and demand, Ruchira Gupta video appears to be taking clear aim at the "pimps and the johns" who buy sex or live off the earnings of sex workers.
Gupta, in London this week to take part in the two-day Trust Women conference , organised by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the International Herald Tribune, is the president of Apne Aap Women Worldwide , a grassroots movement that campaigns to end sex trafficking and offer women alternatives to soliciting. It's an organisation she set up 15 years ago after exposing the involvement of girls in sex work while working as a full-time journalist.
Her documentary on sex trafficking, The Selling of Innocents, won an Emmy award. We go into red light areas and slums, and very marginalised communities and villages where girls and women [are] likely to be trafficked," she says. Apne Aap, which means self-empowerment in Hindi, organises women into groups of 10 and educates them about their legal rights, offers vocational skills training, helps women access finances, and offers advice on setting up bank accounts.
Just as importantly, it provides a space for women and girls to encourage each other and build up their confidence to speak to the police and in court so people who buy sex can be prosecuted. In other words, the organisation seeks to "reduce their dependency on brothels and prevents them [women] from being trafficked". Classrooms are set up so young girls can be educated. The organisation is hoping to expand to other regions. The supply is formed by marginalised women and girls, who have very little choice, so traffickers take advantage of their vulnerabilities.
Demand is based on pimps and johns, those who take advantage of the lack of choice these girls have," she says. Her team visits campuses to "tell them [male students] what happens when women are bought and sold, [when their] bodies are invaded". India has similar laws on prostitution to the UK. It's illegal to have sex with a minor a child under the age of 18 or to live off the earnings of women selling sex or soliciting in a public place.
But police tend to "pick up women and girls who are soliciting rather than the men in the brothels". Gupta's view that women become sex workers because they have no other choice is controversial among some women's groups.
Organisations like Vamp see sex workers not as victims who need saving, but as members of a profession offering greater freedoms than they previously experienced. In July, hundreds of sex workers met in Kolkata for the sex workers freedom festival to lobby for the decriminalisation of their profession.
Do they have a point? Gupta, who will be taking part in two sessions on trafficking and sex work at the Trust Women conference on Wednesday, believes the people at the Kolkata conference were not the young women who are controlled by brothel managers to "pimp themselves, sell their bodies and stand on the streets for long hours waiting for clients".
These women are only in their 20s or early 30s. They're disease-ridden, [have] had many abortions and they have dependency on drugs and alcohol. No one chooses to be born poor, nobody chooses to be born low caste, and in India very often nobody chooses to be born a girl. So, therefore, women who say they choose to be sex workers, it's because they don't have any other choices, it's a survival strategy. And what Apne Aap and I are advocating for is that women are entitled to have many more choices, just like their brothers or their husbands or their fathers.
So they have to have access to jobs, access to livelihoods and savings and education that men in their society do so that they can exercise equal choice.