Orissa Patita Adhar Samiti vs. State of Orissa and Ors: A PIL that prevented the eviction of sex workers without proper rehabilitation


This PIL was filed on behalf of an aid organization to highlight and address the deplorable conditions under which commercial sex workers live their lives. It began with an effort to evict them from land which some of them had called home for over 40 years, a teeming slum community in Bhubaneshwar. The conditions were horrible; the local government knew and took no steps to provide any amenitites for them. They are subject to physical and sexual abuse from the police and live their lives in a constant state of fear and degradation. These conditions continued unnoticed and unaddressed for years, until the local government tried to force them off the land. Seizing an opening, a local NGO which worked with the sex workers filed a PIL on their behalf in the Orissa High Court; asking to court to do two things: in the short term, stay the eviction and, in the long term, order the authorities to take steps to improve the sex workers lives. The court took notice of the sex workers plight and asked the State to file a counter affidavit with reasons for their negligence. In a blatant show of disrespect which epitomizes the authorities' indifference towards these people, the State could not even be bothered to comply with this direction. This angered the court, and the court issued a comprehensive order directing all of concerned authorities to take notice and do their jobs. First, the court ordered a stay on the evictions until such time as adequate rehabilitation measures were in place. The court further defined adequate rehabilitation, which was an important step. Too when courts order rehabilitation of displaced persons the resulting actions are minimal and insufficient. In this case, however, the court was clear in saying that these women have the right to all basic amenities; they have the right to learn their rights through awareness camps and sexual protection seminars. Furthermore, the Court ordered the state to form a committee to investigate the underlying poverty and conditions which lead these women to lives of degradation and humiliation and recommend steps which can be taken to reduce prostitution and provide these women with better opportunities.