This post is written by Anshu Dhamiwal, an engineering student who writes poetry and blogs at Those Unsolved Conundrums. Whether it is poetry or prose, Anshu mostly writes about social issues plaguing women. Her in-depth articles speak with universal eloquence to anyone who has felt the pain of the underprivileged, and marginalized sections of our society.
Prostitution: A no-win fight.
Sex is a taboo in India, therefore anything to do with sex is either looked down or ignored. Prostitution is one of them. It’s very much a part of our society but remains behind the curtains of morality.
Prostitution in simple words is the exchange of sexual services for money between two consenting adults. There have been contrasting views on whether to call it oldest profession or oldest form of exploitation of women by men. Should it be seen as a consensual act, sexual liberation or slavery? Whatever the perception maybe, it cannot be denied that it is source of living to millions of people. Although our society has been insensitive to prostitutes but it is our duty to choose a path which ensures their rights in society. There are possibly three ways to combat this problem:
• Legalize it and regulate it.
• Be diligent and completely uproot it.
• Existing laws should be executed perfectly.
Prostitution Now And Then
Prostitution is not something that popped out all of a sudden in 20th century; it has its roots somewhere 4000years ago. It has prevailed in ancient India. Sculptures and inscriptions are proof of its existence.
In ancient India there was practice of having Nagarvadhus (brides of town). Devadasi system, although banned now exemplifies the relationship between prostitution and religion. Devadasis who performed in temples are called “temple prostitutes”. In 16th to 17th century in Goa, women and girls were captured and bought all the way from japan and were made sex slaves by Portuguese traders. Then in late 18thand early 19th century British soldiers visited Nautch dancers frequently.
As per Human Watch Report India has 20 million women working in the bracket of prostitution. 35.47% of them are under aged i.e. below 18 years (child abuse). Delhi and Mumbai are the hottest centres for this flesh trade.,Mumbai itself has 2, 00,000 sex workers amongst which 50% are HIV positive.. The most infamous red light areas in India are GB road in New Delhi, Budhwar Peth in Pune, Kamaithipura in Mumbai etc.
We have laws which forbid organized prostitution but we have the largest sex industry in Asia. Don’t you think our actions and statements are contradictory?
Legal status in India
In India according to the laws, practising prostitution is not a crime if it is done voluntarily and individually otherwise i.e. its organization is definitely a crime. In other words India has legalized prostitution but it attempts to hide it from public.
The law which governs prostitution in India is PITA(immoral traffic prevention act) (1986), amendment to the primary law SITA( (1956).Major features of the law are:
• Neither a prostitute can solicit/seduce in public place nor can a client ask for sexual favours in public domain (i.e. within 200yards of public place).
• Organized prostitution (brothels and pimping) is illegal.
• Sex worker cannot be below 18 years of age.
• Human trafficking is against law.
• Publication of phone number of call girls is banned.
In essence “A prostitute who is above 18 years works for herself and uses her own premises for entertaining clients keeping in mind that it is publically decent, she is conducting herself lawfully.”
The path that Indian constitution has chosen is middle one and bogus. It has huge flaws which give a platform for exploitation, corruption, child abuse, clandestine prostitution, HIV-AIDS to spawn.
Prostitution is a grim reality, which we cannot be ignored. If we don’t see it, it does not imply that it doesn’t exist. It’s very much there in our society, shielded by hypocrisy of our “MORAL SENSITIVE SOCIETY”. It is practically next to impossible to eradicate prostitution due to its clandestine nature. What can be done is to legalize it, regulate it. Legalization will do following favours:
• Under the present status of laws, sex workers are not protected under normal worker laws. But if legalized sex workers will be protected under normal labour laws and will be entitled to minimum wage benefits, compensation for injuries or other benefits that are common in other kinds of work.
• Legalize it and tax it. It will help in knowing the financial statistics of this trade. It will put a check on black money and will add up to GDP.
• Legalization will help in putting an end on exploitation of prostitutes on the hands of police thus reducing their dependency on police for letting them work in solace. Laws on prostitution in India are bogus which gives an option of their easy distortion (like charging prostitutes for public indecency) in case sex workers refuse to pay them commission.
• Legalization of prostitution will help in venting out sexual energy of men who otherwise are reasons for rapes, molestation and murders. It will help in reducing crime rates.
• Legalization of prostitution will help in regulating sex industry by licensing prostitutes. It will help in keeping track on various statistics of this trade like age of prostitutes, minimum wage, health etc.
• Legalization will help in keeping an eye on STDs like HIV-AIDS, syphilis, gonorrhoea. HIV-AIDS is a cause of concern because acc. To statistics 50% of prostitutes in Mumbai are HIV positive. If legalized licensed prostitutes will regularly go through medical checkups and the license would be cancelled for those who suffer from this disease, thus preventing further spread of disease.
• Legalization would help in prohibiting Human trafficking .It will help in curbing teenage prostitution. Brothels indulging in child/teen prostitution could be penalized.
• Pimps/dalaals who procure women and child like cattle could be prosecuted for exploitation.
• Money, time and energy are spent on enforcement of various laws restricting prostitution. Customers, sex workers and pimps are caught again and again, once caught they have to undergo whole legal procedure.
The Flip Side
Legalization of an evil doesn’t validate it. Prostitution is a form of sexual exploitation and legalization of any evil can be catastrophic. There are various reasons as to why we shouldn’t think of legalization of prostitution which are listed below:
• Legalization means that we are objectifying human beings, who can be purchased or sold. Is it correct?
• Legalization of prostitution doesn’t eradicate it, it expands it.
• Legalization of prostitution would mean acceptance of defeat which sends wrong message to society. It would present as a well recognized career option. And now pause and think how many of us would appreciate our children taking it.
• Commercial sexual exploitation is a form of slavery, and slavery cannot be legalized.
• Legalization can possibly endanger family structure because of free availability of sex outside home. It also wrecks the personality of an individual. In Indian society marriage is a holy institution, and any such deed like engagement with a prostitute is considered as an act of infidelity which further poses threat to institution of marriage.
• Many young women although financially stable take it up to earn those extra bucks to support their luxurious life. Legalization will encourage their decision, further encouraging it as a career choice.
• If legalized and left unregulated, it can be catastrophic. Pimps can then play hide and seek with law causing much more harm to sex workers and their rights. Spread of diseases like AIDS would increase.
Neither legalization nor criminalization can be a perfect solution. However acceptance of prostitutes by the society will be a step forward in curbing this evil. If prostitution is legalized, half of the sex workers will suffer cancellation of their licenses because of the fact that they carry HIV- AIDS infection. Now think about their future. Where will they go? Where will they earn their living from? Will any company or organization recruit them? Forget about companies, will we accept them? And if prostitution is criminalized, it will be difficult for them to earn a livelihood.It is a no-win fight.
How hypocrites are we? We look at prostitutes with contempt, even though we know that they are victims of circumstances. Ever imagined why they decided to take up this trade? Ever sympathized with them? Ever been to the place where they live ? Those narrow streets, next to the dilapidated buildings where sunlight fears to enter, speak tons about their grief. Every window tells a heart rending tale of the desire to be free. It is time we empathize with their pain and give them the right to walk in daylight without the need to hide their individuality in those wee hours of dark.