Prostitution In India: Can It Ever Be A Matter Of Choice?

Posted on December 24, 2010 in Society

By Ananya Mukherjee:

Prostitution in a layman’s language is exchange of sexual favours for money. The word prostitution makes me upset because I do not think any individual especially a woman would willingly indulge in the sex trade unless there is a grave reason behind it. In 2007, the Ministry of Women and Child Development reported the presence of 2.8 million sex workers in India, with 35.47 percent of them entering the trade as child prostitutes before the age of 18 years.

In India, although prostitution, when practiced privately, is legal, keeping brothels, pimping and publicly any act of seduction is illegal. Many innocent victims are forced into prostitution by their husbands, relatives, many get kidnapped and forced, others enter due to lack of resources, or they fall prey to tricks.

The known red-light districts in India are Sonagachi in Kolkata, Kamathipura in Mumbai, G. B. Road in New Delhi, Reshampura in Gwalior and Budhwar Peth in Pune. In recent years red-light areas across various parts of India have become a common place for international sex tourism as well.

The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act or PITA is a 1986 amendment of legislation passed in 1956 as a result of the signing by India of the United Nations’ declaration in 1950 in New York on the suppression of trafficking. The act, then called the All India Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act (SITA), was amended to the current law. The laws intend in criminalizing various aspects of sex work. The main points of the PITA are as follows:

Sex Workers: A prostitute who seduces or solicits shall be prosecuted. Similarly, call girls can not publish phone numbers to the public. (Imprisonment up to 6 months with fine, point 8)

Sex worker also punished for prostitution near any public place or notified area. (Imprisonment of up to 3 months with fine, point 7)

Clients: A client is guilty of consorting with prostitutes and can be charged if he engages in sex acts with a sex worker within 200 yards of a public place or “notified area”. (Imprisonment of up to 3 months, point 7) The client may also be punished if the sex worker is below 18 years of age. (From 7 to 10 years of imprisonment, whether with a child or a minor, point 7)

Pimps and Babus: Babus or pimps or live-in lovers who live off a prostitute’s earnings are guilty of a crime. Any adult male living with a prostitute is assumed to be guilty unless he can prove otherwise. (Imprisonment of up to 2 years with fine, point 4)

Brothel: Landlords and brothel-keepers can be prosecuted, maintaining a brothel is illegal. (From 1 to 3 years imprisonment with fine for first offence, point 3) Detaining someone at a brothel for the purpose of sexual exploitation can lead to prosecution. (Imprisonment of more than 7 years, point 6)

Procuring and trafficking: A person procures or attempts to procure anybody is liable to be punished. Also a person who moves a person from one place to another, (human trafficking), can be prosecuted similarly. (From 3 to 7 years imprisonment with fine, point 5)

Rescued Women: The government is legally obligated to provide rescue and rehabilitation in a “protective home” for any sex worker requesting assistance. (Point 21)

It is being largely observed that the brothel system is slowly dying due to issues like reconstructing that area, victims to AIDS, overcrowding in brothel area leading to discomfort of visitors, increased police patrolling and many other added reasons. Still, trafficking remains a big business and often, girls of tender ages are trafficked from Bangladesh and Nepal.

Recalling an article that was published in Reader’s Digest some years back, it showcased the plight of a Nepalese girl. She was an attendant at a telephone booth. This so called gentleman who used to come to the booth on a regular basis, once offered her a job for which she needed to move to Mumbai and that would have earned her family Rs. 5000 every month. She quickly accepted the offer and left for Mumbai with that gentleman. On reaching Mumbai she was taken to a brothel and raped till she agreed to enter into prostitution. Years later, she was rescued from the brothel as her client was a clerk with some media house and after having heard her story he asked for help. She later came to know that she had been sold for Rs. 50000 by the man who got her to Mumbai and that never even a penny had reached her home.

This is the story of just one prostitute. Imagine how many different stories we will come across if we get to know each one’s history? It is understandable that poverty is a part of our country. But is it justified that poverty becomes a reason to sell oneself? In a country where we have fundamental rights and where we claim to voice anything we feel the need for, why should helpless people be the victims of such dehumanizing acts? Isn’t it strange that we can count and say where all the red-light areas are located even though they are illegal and not supposed to exist? Think about it!