India: Harassment of women engaged in prostitution in Karnataka

Renewed call for action.
On 18th February 2002, a police officer blatantly misused his authority, to intimidate and threaten a group of women from an NGO SANGRAM/VAMP, which works for the rights of women in prostitution and for prevention of HIV/AIDS in the region. The matter was covered in Times of India, Pune edition on 20th February, based on a story filed by Neel Pate, a reporter who was an eyewitness to the incidence at Nippani Police Station. In response, sixteen organisations joined to send petitions to the police and state authorities in Karnataka, State Women’s Commission, National Women's Commission, National Human Rights Commission to immediately take appropriate action against the concerned Circle inspector and the Corporator and also to provide security to the women and their families who have since fled the town of Nippani.
The Asian Women's Commission on Human Rights (AWHRC) have issued this update: Apart from sending petition for action to the Chief Minister of Karnataka on 20th Feb, the we have sent a formal complaint to the SP, Belgaum and met the DGP S.Bhaskar, Secretary (Home) A.R. Infant, DGP (ADDl - Law & Order) Subhash Bharani, NCHR member Justice Sujatha Manohar, IGP (Human Rights) Mr.Motiram and State Commission for women, Philomena Peres. Ms. Advani, of NCW directed that the State Commission of Women visit Nippani with NGO representatives.

The NHRC has considered our complaint at it's meeting on 4/3/2002 and passed the following order: " Issue notice to the Chief Secretaries and Director Generals of Police of Maharashtra and Karnataka as well as S.P of Belgaum for reply within two weeks. In the meanwhile, the SP-Belgaum is directed to provide necessary protection to the members of the organisation and all those persons carrying on the HIV/AIDS prevention programme." The commission has sent notices to all the concerned Chief Secretaries (maharashtra & Karnataka) and Director Generals of Police, SP of Belgaum, with copy to The Secretary (Law & Order), Govt of Karnataka and IGP (Grievances) - Govt of Karnataka.

SANGRAM/VAMP held a press conference on 23rd February, to bring the details of the incidence to the notice of the press and to enlist the support of the media to ensure that justice is done to the group of 30 women from Nippani who have not been able to return to their homes to this date.

We learn that while media carried the story in their issues of 24/25th Feb, a parallel vilification programme of character assassination against SANGRAM and particularly Meena Seshu, is being carried out by some groups/organisations in Mumbai. We learn from the IGP M.D. Singh, that disciplinary proceedings are to be initiated against the circle inspector, Nippani consequent to the completion of the enquiry. Dy SP of Belgaum has also written to SANGRAM (17/3/2002) to write that the PSI Nippani has been directed to receive the complaint from SANGRAM and that " ... As regards giving protection to the members of VAMP for conducting AIDS/HIV awareness program the local police have been instructed to give necessary protection for conducting awareness programs provided members of VAMP conduct awareness programs without causing hindrance, nuisance, annoyance to the citizens of Nippani Town and do not indulge in any illegal activities". It is clear from this, that the local police in Nippani and Belgaum, have conducted even the enquiry under pressure from NHRC and the letter of Dy SP, Belgaum is actually a veiled threat rather than an assurance.

To pre-empt further harassment to the members of VAMP in Nippani either from the police or the local politicians, it is necessary that an action of support be carried out in Nippani at this stage. For this purpose, SANGRAM has called all supporting organisations from Karnataka and Maharashtra and other places, to be at Nippani on 9th/10th of April 2002.
Asian Women's Commission on Human Rights (AWCHR)
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Asian Women's Commission on Human Rights (AWCHR)