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Prostitution In India: Understanding The Conditions Of Prostitutes

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By Pratik Goyal:

A prostitute or a tawaif or a devadasi as different times have called them in India — are the facilitators of what some people say the “oldest profession of the world”, Prostitution. It is $100 billion global industry whose legal status varies from country to country, an industry which is unarguably ubiquitous in all the countries with their own variations, an industry whose history can be traced to 4000 years back to ancient Babylon. But surely one must not be naïve enough to think that this so called “oldest profession” is driven by need of physical pleasure only, but is rather driven by the economic and psychological distresses which contribute majorly to the entry of prostitutes in this profession.

In India prostitution is legal but the other related activities such as soliciting, pimping and brothels are illegal. There are more than 20 million prostitutes in India if a Human Rights Watch report is to be believed — and as many as 35% of them enter at an age less than 18. Prostitution was once upon a time a theme of Indian literature and arts for centuries. In Indian mythology there are many references of high-class prostitution in the form of celestial demigods acting as prostitutes. They are referred to as Menaka, Rambha, Urvashi, and Thilothamma. They are described as perfect embodiments and unsurpassed beauty and feminine charms. Even during the medieval period and rule of mughals they were treated very royally — Sanskrit plays have been written on this, even now, they form a central theme for many movies. Some of these movies have been able to provide an insight to the plight of the prostitutes in our country. But the true face still lies hidden. Ever since the downfall of Mughal Empire the conditions have deteriorated to deplorable levels. Exploring through the causes of prostitution, the first and the foremost factor is Poverty.

Poverty is one of the main causes which brings helpless woman to the doors of prostitution. A woman distressed economically, often ill treated by parents or seduced by boyfriend who later turns out to be a pimp or procurer, and lastly uneducated or with a very low education level seldom finds any other avenues to feed herself other than prostitution. There are other social factors which are degrade the status of a woman. One such factor is the view of women being a commodity – which is pervasive in popular manifestations of culture in India. The harsh reality is, that women who have had sexual experiences are considered to be ‘used goods‘ or ‘characterless’ and are unlikely to ever marry. She becomes an impoverished cultural outcast.

Religious prostitutes, child prostitutes, rapes, inability to arrange marriage are some of the other reasons which pushes the woman on the downslide from which there is no coming back.

India is one of the biggest market for prostitution in Asia with Mumbai alone accommodating 200,000 prostitutes. Trafficking, sex tourism and ‘clandestine’ nature of the industry is further imposing problems and spread of HIV/AIDS is on the rise at an alarming rate with woman being more prone to infection. Because of such nature and lack of regulatory body the real magnitude of severity of the actual situation cannot be comprehended.

The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act or PITA, a 1986 amendment of legislation passed in 1956 provides for the rehabilitation for the sex workers, who come forward and demand it, but what good does it serve if the families of these rescued women do not accept them back. These schemes need to have an empowering impact for these women. These women should be provided vocational training and education and their products should be marketed so that they do not face the same trouble all over again.

Lately there have been questions rising with the growing importance of the mandate of legalizing prostitution in India. While that is certainly not a great solution for the given problems which require more of a paradigm shift in the mindset of people, but given the clandestine nature and no regulation of industry, it would certainly be a step towards damage control. Legalizing would pave way for licenses and registration, whereby workers would have their own identity, access to public facilities, and other services. A serious check on the spread of HIV/AIDS will help in controlling the other related activities which have associated with the prostitution etc.

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  1. Soumit Saha

    a very true picture and a rather humbled one… the paradigm shift is what is always required… How soon we achieve is the quetions that’s always clinging onto a peg carrying the hopes we wish come true..

  2. Neha Bhandarkar

    The positive factors that will be the aftermath of legalization will need to be reviewed time and again, since the stigmatization of prostitution is to a much greater level.

  3. khurshid alam

    my comment is not for again in this topic iam just search the what is this i am work with this topic of college project. i think so at prosticution is not beeter in society term,ruls regultion,for asociety.

  4. raman

    In india It is not 100% true the prostitute doing the business because of poor they make this prostitution is easy way of making money that is all I

  5. anchal

    Very good article,i would like to say that there are few girls who indulge them in this market not because of money ,they do this to get pleasure in their life.They are from rich families,but the desire to step in this gutter ruin their soul.However we should show sympathy to those who are forcefully dragged into this gutter.Thier rights should be given to them,eqully treated in the society.

  6. Kumar

    Dear sir,
    The laws against prostitution in India are having enough power but it

    has become very difficult to the police to implement them. the main

    reason may be the capacity of Indian mafia and general apathy of

    Indian public.
    The menace of prostitution is not detrimental one for the economy

    and society is the belief of of our police and politicians. So they

    turn their eyes in a different direction when it comes to the matter
    But that is the rot of all social evils .
    Kindly go through
    1) A trafficker buys a girl from Nepal — 100000 is lost from the

    2) She will be brought into the country and raped repeatedly and

    that will never be reported —– Many rapists are created they may

    rape even another free woman . Govt has to spend money and

    resources for investigation conviction etc.
    3)The earning capacity of the free woman may be crippled — a loss

    to the economy.
    4) The running rates in brothels are around rs.500 per client.
    5) A girl gets minimum 10 clients a day.
    So the minimum earnings will be around Rs 5000 a day multiply it

    by at least 300 days an year Rs 1500000 per girl
    6) If a madam /brothel Keeper is having 10 girls the sum becomes

    an amount of 1.5 crores. This is an enormous amount under Indian

    7) All the money earned so will be black money either it has to be

    stashed or used for illegal activities.
    If the money is stashed economy looses so much of investments.

    so reduced production in industry/agriculture for the tune of 5

    crores per year . This only from a brothel having 10 girls. multiply

    the amount by 1.2 million girls then you will see the enormity of

    The loss will Rs 600 thousand crore per year.
    8)This loss is only when the amount has been stashed in the form of

    gold or cash .If the money earned so is used to fund smuggling the

    loss. becomes much more.
    9) Under this scenario the petty police of the nation will not be

    having any other avenue other than abetting the criminals.
    Either they have to abet the criminals or they have to die mostly

    the ones who go for raids continuously are transferred.
    10)These sex workers become infected with STDS soon and

    transmit it to the working population. So there will be a loss to the

    economy in terms of work in terms of education treatment. etc
    When we consider estimated 3 million sex workers The loss

    become an amount that can not be estimated.

    The brothel keeper who earns more than the police officer will

    become all powerful in this scenario. He can threaten to kill the honest

    police or his near and dear ones. There is no protection for them so

    even the honest will become helpless.
    Even if they arrest the brothel keepers they come out on bail the

    next day and continue the business with new girls .
    so the law against prostitution becomes unimplementable and ends

    up in harassing the the prostitute the real victim.
    Prosecuting the client is not a solution as it will make the operations

    more clandestine and more brutal for the victims.
    Then is there not any way to break the networks .
    There are some ways which can be implemented with existing

    resources and man power or low cost solutions.

    1) Establish a web site for the general public to report a bout child

    prostitution /trafficking etc anonymously. By doing so pimps might

    have to take extra care in choosing the clients.
    2)Make it possible to award the police teams for rescuing minor

    girls from the dens the award amount should be more than a lakh

    per girl. This will make them to come out of the greed of bribes.The

    girls rescued from the dens can be trained in a vocation and part of

    their earnings can be utilized for repaying the award money.
    3)Make brothel keeping and pimping a non bailable offense. Let

    those brothel keepers languish in jails indefinitely till the legal

    process is completed.
    4) Make it possible to attach and confiscate all the property of the

    brothel keepers pimps and financiers of flesh trade.
    5) Let the police who raids may have share of 40 percent of the

    riches and rest to the govt. for rehabilitation purposes.
    By doing so police will be risking their life’s and raiding the dens.
    3)The onus of proving innocence should remain with the

    beneficiaries of flesh trade. the law should be guilty till proved

    innocent. this increases the chances of conviction.
    4)The women engaged in prostitution should be treated as

    victims not as culprits.
    5)Once the case is proved The buildings that run brothels can be

    auctioned and the booty can be shared by the local police

    administration and politicians. This prevents the proprietors lending

    their premises for illegal activities.
    6) The punishment should be civier it should not be less than 10

    7) In case of traffickers and Madams /brothel runners They can be

    made compulsory blood donors. And forced organ donors if they

    are healthy.
    Otherwise they can be used as human guineas for toxicology

    experiments/ scientific experiments. No need of showing mercy on

    them. They were ruthless for the young girls and spoiled the lives of

    many. You may think the clause is draconian but barbaric acts can

    be stopped only by draconian laws.
    8) Avenue of awarding the informers for successful raids should be

    established this helps in intelligence gathering.
    9)The brothel keepers rotate girls lest they will devolp affinity

    towards clients and elope with them withe help of police. In the

    same way there should a rotating anti trafficking and raiding cell

    power to seal premises conduct raids without warrants arrest the

    culprits etc.

    If the govt is keen on eradicating child prostitution it has to act

    with an iron fist. And consider that even the police who are

    entrusted to enforce law are human and they too have limitations.

    And the laws should be made implementable without harm to the life

    and properties of the people who implement them . Otherwise there

    will be very good laws that can never be implemented.

  7. K.B.Srivastava

    In India, prostitution is legal, but it is not allowed on a public place. But I think that hotels should be allowed for this purpose.

  8. Diksha

    I think that may be sometimes these young girls enter the profession on their own… But why do we overlook the reasons behind this… Many a times a girl is compelled to enter the profession… It may be legal or illegal but it is surely harmful enough to cause death of the girl by contracting many STD’s n even it is harmful for the society as if a prostitute becomes a victim of disease like AIDS then she can spread it to many clients.. Who in their real life may have or usually have wives
    Got it?? This business however it may be needs to be stopped or legalized with many restrictions which would protect those girls as well as the society… I agree totally that nobody should be forced in the profession. It should be their choice after all.

    1. K.B.Srivastava

      Under Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1956, prostitution within an area of 200 metres from a public place (i.e. hotels, temples, school, park, hospitals and hostels etc.) is punishable. But after 200 metres of a public place, it is legal and there is no need of licenses. But most people do not know this. In hotels people stay with their wives or girl friends or with their other family members and friends and they feel inconvenience, when police raid there for prostitution. This was why I wrote that hotels should be allowed for this purpose. I agree that nobody should be forced in the profession and under this act if anybody forces any body for prostitution he is punished according to law. But I think that hotels should not be raided for the purpose of prostitution so that we can stay there with comfort with our wife, girl friend or our other family members as and when we are on tour.

  9. Bharat bhushan

    I want to publish book on modern problems of sex workers, you are requested to contribute articles related to your issues and how you have achieved the basics from govt organisations. I f you have any organised body to edit the book he/ she would be welcomed and name would be printed in contributors list.

    India Publisher’s & Distributors
    New Delhi

  10. Namrata Gulati

    Thanks Pratik for the article. It is rather sad that sex workers are excluded from the Census too.

    1. wasif

      that is really sad.

  11. Angel

    I am really sad that the indian government cannot do anything to stop this. It has been amazing and sad to read and learn about all this kind if bad stuff. I hope that someday that this all will end.

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