Supreme Court grants sex workers the right to ration cards
by Nirmala Carvalho

The Court orders federal and state governments to issue ID papers to sex workers making them eligible to social benefits. For Sr Prema Chowallur, “this decision will bring recognition and relief to millions of people who lived years together in the backyards of the country”.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Supreme Court of India issued an order on 14 December directing Indian states to provide sex workers with identity papers so that they can receive ration cards. This follows a plea by some sex workers who described their destitution during the pandemic.

In rendering its decision, India’s highest tribunal slammed governments for not following directions it issued a decade ago.

“The fundamental rights are guaranteed to every citizen of the country irrespective of his/her vocation,” reads the ruling. “There is a bounden duty on the government to provide basic amenities to the citizens of the country.”

For this reason, “The central government, state governments and other authorities are directed to commence the process of issuance of ration cards, voter ID cards and Aadhaar cards[*] [to sex workers] immediately.”

The Court suggested that the authorities seek the help of the National Aids Control Organisation to draw up the lists, checking them with the information provided by local community-based groups.

Sister Prema Chowallur welcomed the Supreme Court's decision. A member of the Sisters of the Cross of Chavanod, the catholic nun has been involved in Assam for years helping sex workers and homeless transgender people.

“As a person involved in working for the development of marginalised people, I welcome this reasonable and valuable decision of the Supreme Court whole-heartedly,” she said.

“Sex workers are a group of people who are pushed to the margins of society, with a stigma that so far has not given them the opportunity to enjoy entitlements guaranteed to other Indian citizens.

"I am confident that this decision will bring recognition and relief to millions of people who lived years together in the backyards of the country, either by force or choice, without enjoying basic human rights to food and citizenship.”

[*] Aadhaar (English: foundation or base) is a 12-digit individual identification number issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India on behalf of the Government of India. It is a proof of identity and address, anywhere in India.