(New York) - The unlawful forced displacement of thousands of sex workers and others from a beach community in the Indian state of Goa will drastically harm efforts to contain HIV/AIDS in the area, Human Rights Watch said today.
On June 14, Goa state authorities destroyed 250 homes of sex workers as well as about 800 homes of other residents of Baina. The eviction occurred at the height of the monsoon season, and many displaced residents are still without homes. Twenty-two persons were arrested peacefully protesting the eviction.
Previously, a high court in Mumbai had ordered the state of Goa to conduct a socioeconomic survey of the Baina neighborhood and to offer to the sex workers in the area a viable “rehabilitation” plan before any displacement could be effected. The state offered sex workers the opportunity to be housed behind barbed wire in a former children’s home to learn handicrafts, including candle-making and embroidery. The sex workers did not see this as a viable employment alternative and had hoped the state would reconsider its proposal.
“The Baina sex workers had a well-known record of working to promote condom use in the community as well as among their clients,” said Joanne Csete, director of the HIV/AIDS Program at Human Rights Watch. “Now that the sex workers are dispersed, and unable to work together on HIV prevention, the whole community is at greater risk for HIV.”
The Baina sex workers also successfully combated child trafficking in the Baina area, an effort now stopped by the eviction.
The Forum for Justice in Baina, a local organization, filed a petition for redress with the High Court in Mumbai, seeking assistance for those displaced. A hearing is scheduled for July 10.
In a letter sent yesterday, Human Rights Watch called on the chief minister of Goa to provide assistance to enable those displaced to find adequate shelter and to facilitate the reorganization of the HIV-prevention activities of the displaced sex workers. The organization hopes the High Court in Mumbai will reissue its order for an appropriate rehabilitation plan for those displaced.