Twelve Sex Workers Escaped from Ujjwala House in Hyderabad India

Asia Pacific Regional Correspondent

Twelve sex workers escaped from Ujjwala House in Hyderabad India, where they had been detained for months following a raid on their workplaces. Thirty-two women are housed in the so called shelter, which claims to "rehabilitate" and "rescue" sex workers.

Just after 9 am on 22 June, the twelve women came down from the first floor to the ground floor for breakfast. The sex workers managed to escape the shelter. It is unclear how they escaped the shelter. Some report they pushed security personnel into a room and bolting them in from the outside. Others, such as The Deccan Chronicle, reported the sex workers used rope to tie up the women who guard them, locking them in separate rooms before escaping.

The shelter responded by filing a complaint with the police. Special teams were set up to track down the women who had escaped, however they remain undetected by authorities at this time.

It is not the first time this has happened, with local residents reporting a few women detained in the shelter fled several years ago. There are widespread, longstanding reports of abuses and complaints relating to the shelter and many like it in Hyderabad. Amongst the myriad of concerns is the way in which the “shelters” are described as a service to support individuals. However, those kept in the facilitates are referred to as “inmates” and detained against their will, violating their human rights.

According to Sneha, a sex worker who was detained in “Rescue” home in 2015, “life in that home was like a jail. There were 35 other sex workers caught by the police, and none of us were allowed to go outside. During the stay, I could never sleep properly or eat well. They tried to teach me skills that would help me get some work. But how will you feed a family stitching dresses and making jute bags?”
Officials from these rescue homes claim that sex workers are detained for their “reform.” Officials from the homes continue to perpetuate fundamental misunderstandings about sex work and sex workers lives for their own gain.

As Satyawa explained in a recent report on shelters in Hyderabad, “the whole idea of shelter homes is steeped in morality, not rights. The language also gives this away. Why have someone called ‘superintendent’?”

The report  by the American Jewish World Service Time for Overhauls: Report of National Consultations on Services in and Around State-Run and Funded Shelter Homes for Girls, Women and Other Vulnerable Populations makes many recommendations, including that “residents should not be jailed or deprived of their fundamental freedoms, respect and links with their families/community.” 

The report challenges the idea that women are victims, and they are destitute and/or criminals. It is important to recognise the agency of women, including sex workers, in order to “help protect women’s human rights and speedup access to justice especially vis-à-vis their choices around marriage, relationships and sexual autonomy.”