Shillong: Following the announcement made by the Rot Association of Meghalaya (RAM), a community of sex workers, of holding a panel discussion to observe ‘International Sex Workers Rights Day’ at Mawkhar locality in Shillong, a section of Mawkhar residents called upon to boycott the gathering.

Gracia Pariat, a member of ‘Sur Ki Nong Mawkhar’ (Voice of the people of Mawkhar), said they feel “disgusted” that RAM plans to organise a panel discussion on March 3 to observe International Sex Workers Rights Day in their locality.

“We jointly call on residents of the Mawkhar to commit to a boycott of the gathering at the Khasi National Durbar Hall to ensure this historical building is not abused and humiliated in the hands of these sex workers,” added Pariat.

Pariat stated that for decades, residents of Mawkhar, members of frontline committees, and numerous groups have worked tirelessly “to maintain decency in the area.” 

Sur Ki Nong Mawkhar refuses to let RAM conduct the panel discussion at the premises of the KND Hall or within the boundaries of Mawkhar.

“We, therefore, call on the DC Isawanda Laloo to boycott the gathering – anything less will be seen as a blatant disregard for our locality,” said Pariat.

I Kharmuti, President, RAM, in an open letter issued on Wednesday, demanded a ‘Sex Work Decriminalisation Bill’ be introduced immediately so that their work is recognised and respected.

“50 years have passed. We are on the threshold of a new age, but indifference is all I see. It’s high time the Meghalaya government took notice of the hundreds of sex workers across the state of Meghalaya who is trying to be heard and recognised in the fight for better working conditions and end violence against them. It’s time to decriminalize sex work,” mentioned Kharmuti.

The president of RAM said that the bill should regulate the sex industry like any other service industry. Most forms of consensual adult sex work remain heavily criminalised in Meghalaya, driving the sex industry underground, and resulting in sex workers fearing the police. This bill should remove offences relating to consensual adult sex work altogether.

RAM expressed that living in Meghalaya, a state that criminalises sex work, their rights are rarely recognised but instead they are murdered. “The criminalisation of our work maintains unsafe conditions for us. It prohibits us from creating safe places to see our customers, to negotiate our work, and to access safety when needed,” stated Kharmuti.

RAM president recalled how last year, they had launched an open constitutional challenge to three MLAs. However, none of their appeals made it to the highest court or any court for that matter.

“Ironically and tragically, local experts (moral police NGOs, religionists and the like) disregarded our spirit by further strengthening the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, in the entire state of Meghalaya on their own. This law, which criminalises us, our clients, and third parties, offers us no protection whatsoever. Not only is its objective to eliminate the sex industry and everyone in it, but it also makes it easier for people to target us with impunity,” added Kharmuti.

When EastMojo contacted the ‘Rangbah Shnong’ of Mawkhar locality, they stated that the hall can be rented out to anyone and had no such thoughts of opposing the event.

The assistant headman of Mawkhar locality, Ransom Sutnga, said that he feels that it is not such a big issue that one has to oppose since it is more of an awareness program.

“I don’t have any problem with the panel discussion. I believe it will bring awareness to the public. To say that we oppose there is no such thought. From the end of the Dorbar Shnong, we don’t have any problem with it. We are open to such kind of awareness programs,” said Sutnga.

He also mentioned that there is no group as ‘Sur Ki Nong Mawkhar’ and he isn’t aware of residents opposing tomorrow’s panel discussion. 

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