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Is India Ready For Complete Legalization Of Prostitution?

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By Shweta Sachdeva:

“The prostitute is the scapegoat for everyone’s sins, and few people care whether she is justly treated or not. Good people have spent thousands of pounds in efforts to reform her, poets have written about her, essayists and orators have made her the subject of some of their most striking rhetoric; perhaps no class of people has been so much abused, and alternatively sentimentalized over as prostitutes have been but one thing they have never yet had, and that is simple legal justice.” -Alison Neilans (1884-1942)

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It was on a usual day when we were assigned our Sociology project topics. I thought ‘bring it on’, since I love morally-bound subjects, topics and discussions. So when I got the topic- “Should prostitution be legalized in India?” I was ecstatic. I thought finally I could use my knowledge of the law and understanding of the society to come up with the perfect solution. But by the end of it, I got nothing, except a really good grade.

Awareness about prostitution in our country is very limited and people are mostly ill-informed. Prostitution as defined by the Webster’s Law Dictionary is an occupation where one earns money by selling one’s body to another for sexual purposes. Simple enough words, but what about the connotations and perspectives attached to it? They are deeply complex and misbalanced.

The issue here seems to be that it involves sex’. Something hushed about in our country, considered a taboo; something to be embarrassed about. Feminists have tried to challenge these very acuities. Third-wave feminism talked about cancelling out the traditional definitions, the usual subtexts regarding sexuality, body-images, gender etc. and instead, updating the age-bound designations.

Prostitution, as thought by many in India, is banned. Well, myth #1 busted. Prostitution has limited legality in India. This means that it is not a criminal offence to be a prostitute, but soliciting or owning a brothel is. Hasn’t stopped those red light areas in our hometowns from cropping up, has it? A new legislation in India was suggested and implemented in the Parliament in 2013 that aimed to punish the stake-holders involved in exploiting such women. It was received with much adulation. But all my research and all my questionnaires led to one big question; is India ready for prostitution to be legalized completely? Are its people ready? And overwhelmingly, the answer was no.

Law is supposed to be black and white in nature; it is not bound by morals. But I have come to the conclusion that no law is without morals – a country’s ethicality, its traditions, its people’s sentiments are the things that shape its legislations. Law is a framework to protect and enforce people’s rights, but these rights are not present for sex workers apparently.

What I don’t understand is – it’s a woman’s body, it’s her right, her choice and her option about what she wants to do with it. So when she does, why all the hoopla? It’s the society that forces us to maintain certain standards of life, to live a certain way. A woman in the profession does work hard, does put food on the table, but why the disgusted apprehensions? Why the unavailability of entitlements and privileges to her? Does she cease to be human just because of her line of work? People I talked to said, “It’d be so easy for young girls to get swayed by the easy money and tarnish their futures by indulging in this profession. It’d be damnation of the Indian culture”. Well, for naysayers, the Indian history is replete with sex workers. In fact, it would be incomplete without them. They were treated with respect and dignity. They graced many courts and were always celebrated.

Sex work was eminent in Indian history, a fact reinstated by the temples of yesteryears and the museums we visit. So culture cannot be used as a defence to criminalize or rid these women of their rights. It is simply defiance on people’s part today to accept it, to mould their minds around it. What we do not understand is that, by our own narrow demeanours, we are making this profession more vulnerable. We forget that because of us, sex workers cannot walk with respect; they cannot lodge complaints or receive legal help without our perspectives road-blocking their freedom.

For those who are forced into prostitution, there are legislations such as those in the Indian Penal Code and Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act among others, in place. But even though adult consensual work has been condoned in the laws[1], it is yet to be given the green light by the Indian society’s outlook.

[1]Staff Reporter, Distinction between consensual sex work and sexual exploitation welcomed

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  1. siddhant

    Good work..nice thoughts!!

  2. vidushi

    well written and beautifully explained

  3. samridhi mehta

    This article is beautifully written.I must congratulate the writer to have put across the answer quite well!Looking forward to reading more of your written work.

  4. P.S.Sharda

    Your effort and attempt are commendable. Kudos for that. Good job. My friend PK has desired me to post my comment on your courageous work.
    Comments: [not a critique]
    In the historic period the nomenclature was ‘Nagarvadhu’. Incidentally, your article too does not take note of the male prostitute known as ‘Gigolo’; the child prostitute and the ‘Eunuch prostitution’. Are they lesser human; or is it that ‘men’ have been so ‘inhuman’ that they are no more considered human by the other genders of humanity. A research can discover a lot if it starts from neolithic age. Then it was only might that was right. Any one strong enough would have most likely ruled the roost partaking at will anything and anyone for satiation of physical urges. Tracing civil evolution a researcher can discover a lot including that might is still right! albiet it is law that is mightiest now. Obviously then those concerned with making it or protecting it are calling the shots everywhere defining constructs and reacting to affects thereof. Obviously then any blame must squarely rest with ‘them’. It is the ones who cannot find a suitable means of earning who stand condemned to yield to the sexual demand of those who are mightier than them due to ‘their’ access to ‘money’ from more convenient source of earning or access to money, though not necessarily more moral, for ill gotten gains by barter of conscience is no way better than sharing a body for survival, gender not withstanding. Do we not then need to redefine ‘PROSTITUTION’ to make it gender neutral and situation specific. Are the incurable corrupt not ‘prostitutes’. Unless such and like thought processes are discovered through research by scholars who are not driven by ‘grades’ alone, humanity will continue to thirst for true freedom and continue to thirst for natural evolutionary reforms that occur as a direct consequence thereof.
    P.S.Sharda

  5. shekhar Jain

    Hello Shweta,

    I really liked the piece you wrote.

    Just putting across a question “do you want to visit a red light area?”

    There may be some chances that you may be kidnapped and taken to a place outside Delhi where you are raped multiple times and when you have accepted that sex is nothing and one can earn decent money by selling his/her body you are brought back and sold in a brothel to do some work.

    Just thinking over it and revisit your query one more time. You will get the answer by Sex work is not legalized in India. In india there are laws but no order so most legal things backfires. Laws are only created when there is infrastructure for them.

    1. Shailesh Prasad

      I cannot understand your logic. Do you mean to say that bold actresses like Sherlyn Chopra and Poonam Pandey have experienced this forced sex and therefore they have chosen this profession, though I am not equating them with prostitutes but they are definitely providing sexual pleasure to most men for money? There are many girls who are legally and illegally chosen to be prostitutes not because they have experienced sexual abuse or forced sex in their lives.

      Infact, not just India, see the international scenario. Many female porn stars have chosen to work in porn movies because of many reasons and not because that they have experienced forced sex and sexual abuse etc.

      have you conducted a survey of all the prostitutes and porn stars that why are they in this profession? If not, then your comment is completely baseless.

      Infact, prostitution would reduce sexual crimes on the contrary. Lastly, what you said that legal things backfire or whatever, you have given yourself a point of debate in favour of prostitution in this case as there is a law prohibiting prostitution but it has backfired as it still thrives in concealed manner and thus lot of trafficking also happens. Therefore, it is better to repeal the baseless law of prohibiting prostitution.

  6. Ashok

    One of the worst and immature article I’ve read on net without any facts and effects on women’s life.

    Is prostitution a work?? Really?
    Instead of legalizing the prostitution, it must be banned and it must be noted here that most women and innocent girls r trafficked and forced to sex trade and it is not there first choice at all.
    It must be the duty of any country’s Govt. to provide food,shelter,clothes and some other professional works for proper living.
    Women must be motivated and inspired for all-round education and health.
    There are millions of successful women engineers,doctors,teachers,private firms employees etc,
    Then Why can’t the women which are living in dark confinements of prostitution become a part of standard living by becoming a successful person.

    1. Shweta Sachdeva

      Sir with due respect to your opinions, I never once throughout my article tried to impose or make right the fact that millions of women and children are pushed into it. Neither are the severe inhuman conditions they live in. That was never my intention.
      And as far as your question of whether it qualifies as work, well, it is an occupation like any other where work is done, a consumer pays for it, only the matter here happens to be that it is in exchange for sex.
      Forced prostitution and child prostitution stands banned in our country and although adult consensual work has been recognized, it has not garnered much sympathy from our society. All I tried to do was make people see that its not as dirty if we just open our minds to the idea.

    2. Shailesh Prasad

      There is trafficking because it is illegal, not because it is legal. Many girls are kidnapped and forced into this profession because they find that they are not getting enough girls for their business, and that is due to its legal issues. However, if prostitution is legalized, many girls would voluntary join this profession and they would hence not need to force a girl to join this profession.

      Moreover, legalizing it would make more checks on trafficking as while issuing licenses they can also ask for letter of consent from prostitutes etc. and they would have knowledge that where this business is running, because if illegal then it can still exist but in concealment and stealth manner.

      By the way, there is lot of damage in the society due to the consumption of alcohol, many people die consuming excessive alcohol and many suffer liver damage. Have you ever protested that alcohol should be completely banned as it is legal?

      Anyway, my issue is that brothels even if not legalized, it is only that advertisements for prostitution that should be legalized in specified mediums and channels for that purpose only. Prostitution is legal in India if practised privately and individually and not through organized agents and pimps. However, advertisements are prohibited but if there is no advertisements, how can the customer reach the prostitute?

      Therefore, even if there is a question of morality, then it should be advertised in specifically made mediums, if not on general mediums.

  7. hbaromega

    Can you rephrase your question? For instance: Can we suggest our kids/friends to try prostitution as a profession after it gets legalized?

    When you talk about their choice, it could be good to think: Can it be my choice as well? Shall I try this profession in those countries where it has been legalized?

  8. Yogender mohan bammi

    I wish to congratulate the writer for tackling a very important social issue, which is critical to our society and culture.
    Her identification of the issues and problems, both from human and social point of view, is commendable. She has also touched lucidly on the legal and economic aspects of the causes of the unfortunate women being drawn into this profession against their wishes, and the life they lead, and the attitude of the society to them.
    I am sure her article will raise more discussion and lead to rectify the lacunas in our society.

  9. harish bisht

    A very well-written article… I look forward to reading your next informative work. Thank you.

  10. Nikhil Nair

    Your point is well taken. The article is balanced and well augmented. However it is hard not to see through the irony in the law. Legally being a prostitute is not a crime but it the prostitute who has to bear the brunt of social stigma. Likewise public solicitation and brothels are illegal but these institutions thrive without any hoola. The men who scream obscenities at these women at public forums are the same ones who visit them at night.
    I totally support the argument that choosing what to do with your body is your right and society needs no say in it. But the fact is that most of these women are forced into this trade and this must not be allowed.

  11. Kritie Sood

    Very well written.

  12. Paro Sachdeva

    Very well written Shweta. God bless you.

  13. Jayadarshan

    First, I would like to congratulate u for ur courageous attempt to explore a social concern. When I read I felt u have focused only on women. There are also Men Prostitution.Next, It is Better to argue the topic as Right to Livelihood instead of arguing it as Women’s right (Her choice,Her body). A girl becoming a prostitute should purely depend on her decision. The Problem with legalization is the owners of prostitution centres earn a lot. That Greediness results in Trafficking. There are stringent laws against Trafficking. The Culture and history plays an important role in “LEGALISATION” Though there are illustrations in history where prostitution was legally performed during vijayanagara empire, even there they didn’t get respect.
    In my opinion, It must be legalised People think that it may lead to the disruption of culture, Spread of AIDS etc:- . Isn’t is destroying it now??? We Stand 3rd in AIDS affected countries. In Netherlands, It has been Legalized,But it is not in top countries. We have to agree that People of India are not ready to accept it as a profession and so the Law. Even Scavengers are also treated lowly because of their profession… Recently Law was enacted to stop manual scavenging.. There will b a day when PROSTITUTION WILL BE LEGALIZED. But It will take time….

  14. Green Lantern

    Ma’am, please note that a woman’s body does not mean that it her her choice to do whatever she feels like doing. If I am driving a car, I cannot go around breaking traffic signals with the statement “my car, my choice.” Yes, if a woman is destitute, then it is a different matter, but legalizing prostitution means that people will freely indulge in illicit sex which is plain wrong. A woman is a human being and should be treated as such regardless of her profession but that does not men she can indulge in sexual relationships with whoever she feels like, because it ends up breaking families apart.

    1. Shweta Sachdeva

      What a woman in this profession does is merely use her body to feed her stomach and her family’s. All I’m trying to decipher is why is it stigmatized so much? Because SEX is a conservative notion in our culture and our mindsets. Can’t it just be a job she does? And she does not amply walk into households to break families apart. You sir are forgetting that it is these ‘family men’ who pay them and on the basis of which their livelihood exists.

    2. Shailesh Prasad

      You cannot compare prostitution with traffic management and driving a car. When you break a traffic signal, you actually case inconvenience to others too with your act and that is why it is prohibited. However, prostitution does not cause harm to others and therefore it should be allowed.

    3. Shailesh Prasad

      **When you break a traffic signal, you actually case inconvenience to others too with your act and that is why it is prohibited.

    4. Shailesh Prasad

      **When you break a traffic signal, you actually cause inconvenience to others too with your act and that is why it is prohibited.

    5. Shailesh Prasad

      As regards breaking families apart, there are many reasons why families break apart other than prostitutes, like liquor or excessive alcohol addiction. However, have you gone and protested that alcohol should be banned?

    6. Shailesh Prasad

      Pls do reply if can!

  15. inderjit singh kohli

    Of course a woman has all the RIGHT rights over her body and its use for what it is meant but in a dignified way, well within acceptable society norms and not make it a business. To legalize its use as prostitution will have a very bad effect on young girls.It is opposed .

    1. Shweta Sachdeva

      Sir I simply ask you do you not use the tools given to yourself to make money? Then when she does the same, why does it leave a bad taste in our mouth? Watching famous celebrities gyrate half-naked on the television has a bad effect on young girls, shouldn’t that be banned as well? And what sir is dignified? She does her work like any other man or woman, behind closed doors. Then why all the ruckus?

    2. Shailesh Prasad

      Can you add more information and detail on that? Pls elaborate if you can. If you are talking about HIV/AIDS then that can be avoided with condoms.

  16. Kunal

    Hi Shweta,
    I would like to commend u for ur audacious endeavor about this social topic.
    But, Before legalization of the prostitution we must consider its consequences that would be destroying an Indian culture.
    Yes, Its a females decision what she wants to do with her body, but she should also follows the govt rules and regulations. Even watching a porn while sitting next to a girl is a crime in India. She must abide ordinances.
    Most of the girls that are involved in this act are forcibly doing this or to overcome their financial problems. You should also think what major effect it will create to our younger generation.
    With the legalization of prostitution, dnt u think it will act as an impetus for rape.
    Think for better India……………

    1. Shailesh Prasad

      Firstly, this is 21st century. If we still talk about cultures then again British would come and prey us like vultures. LOL!!!! So, 1000 saal se culture ke piche padne se angrez ki tarah akalmand nahi ban gye. So, yeh culture ko vulture ke paas pheko aur deemag se socho. LOL!!

      Secondly, do not boast as if Indian culture never had prostitution. Infact present prostitution itself has roots from Indian culture, like Delhi’s GB road is a centre for prostitution since Mughal era if I am not wrong and nowadays prostitution still goes on there because during Mughal era there were Kothas there.

    2. Shailesh Prasad

      And it would not encourage non-consensual or forced sex but on the contrary reduce them as if they have to choose between only one time forced sex with a gal and 7 years of imprisonment without sex or continuous sexual pleasure for rest of the life, I am sure that they would go with latter.

  17. Qaddaffi

    I dont understand how the writer is able to acknowledge prostitution as a profession or work. Will the writer be ready to show a woman, who admits she does prostitution because she likes doing it..??

    1. Shailesh Prasad

      Yeh, why not. I think that enough is mentioned as to how prostitution should be acknowledged and even if it is not so, then instead of questioning on how prostitution can be acknowledged, why don’t you answer that why should it not be acknowledged.

    2. Anonymous

      And who admits they love their 9am to 5pm day job is awesome and they wake up everyday just to enjoy work?? but its still called profession have some respect for other ppl profession whatever it might be

  18. Monistaf

    Shweta –

    Thank you for the thought provoking article. I agree with you that sex between two consenting adults for what ever the reason may be, should be legal. No one has the right to enforce their sense of morality on someone else. I also do not agree with several of the comments below that claim that it will be a sort of dilution of our cultural values if prostitution were legalized. Culture is the evolved human capacity to collectively act with refinement and integrity with the general purpose of bettering the society we live in. It is based on the foundation of an individual’s right to live free, express themselves and pursue their dreams, their right to justice and their freedom from being persecuted for exercising these rights. Legalizing prostitution will have an impact on our way of life, but I think those who oppose it can clearly choose not to participate or be a part of it in any way, shape or form. Why should they be worried about what others are up to? Someone mentioned below that it could encourage girls to go in to prostitution as an easy way of life. So, what? It is her right as an adult to make that choice, and it is someone else’s right to pay for her services. It should have nothing to do with what anyone else thinks or feels. Social acceptance of legalized prostitution will be difficult in the beginning, but in my humble opinion, is inevitable in the long run.

    1. Shailesh Prasad

      Yes, and morality does not make anyone smart else it would be the Arabs who would have first introduced industrial revolution and not the European guys who are highly perverted. LOL!

  19. Shikhar_V

    Dear Shweta,

    I whole-heartedly support the notion when I think from the perspective of a consensual sex workers. However, my concern remains with regards to trafficking of girls ( or boys) without their consent. With legalization of prostitution , wouldn’t the rackets forcing girls into prostitution get away with the crime ,simply by portraying provision of employment? After all providing girls with a legal job would be difficult to be seen as a crime. And especially with our weak judiciary, wouldn’t fighting immoral trafficking become even more challenging? This is where I feel that India is not ready for legalization of prostitution.
    I would love to be contradicted here with valuable inputs from your side and I sincerely hope to see another article where this aspect is highlighted in much bigger a way.

    1. Shailesh Prasad

      Trafficking is happening because it is illegal, not because that it would become legal. If brothels are given licenses and regulations under which they can perform, and consent letter of all the prostitutes is obtained and given to the police station, it would reduce trafficking.

      Moreover, even if trafficking exists, my issue is that brothels should not be legalized, it is only that advertisements for prostitution that should be legalized in specified mediums and channels for that purpose only. Prostitution is legal in India if practised privately and individually and not through organized agents and pimps. However, advertisements are prohibited but if there is no advertisements, how can the customer reach the prostitute?

      Therefore, even if there is a question of morality, then it should be advertised in specifically made mediums, if not on public areas.

  20. SS

    Let me first of all congratulate you Shweta for picking up this important topic and writing so brilliantly. This topic has always been close to my heart and I have had several debates on this in the past. One interesting aspect of morality debates I always noticed is that men, more than women, always tend to take the higher grounds. They like to really decide what women should or should not do with their bodies. They appoint themselves as the keeper of morality and values and culture; and all of it starts from a women’s body. The fact that there are some parts of men’s body and mind too involved in any sexual act is conveniently forgotten.

    Case in point is the comments here. Its only men who are talking about how if women are given rights to use her body the way she wants, and being respected for it, is going to devalue the societal values. While all the women are supporting your point.

  21. Sri Ram

    Great topic to drice more traffic to website !!

    1. Shailesh Prasad

      Yeh. It is better that more and more people should come and read so that awareness is spread for the rational decision. 😛

  22. Ashwin

    The reason why prostitution is seen as a taboo in todays society is mainly due to the knowledge that we have inherited from our family,religion,society etc.
    Prostitution should be banned due to one main reason i.e for the stability of our future generations.If prostitution become legal, it would be quite evident that men who have family would also be drawn into it,this would affect how his family would be bought up.No son or daughter would be able to grow up in the right manner if they come to know that their father is a cheat.Issues such as these would certainly affect of society and identity in the long run.The reason why todays youth like you and me are here is due to the right upbringing from our family,once when that is lost ,we lose everything.Legalization of prostitution would also be a positive step towards adultery and disloyalty to marriage and relationships.
    Instead of being pessimistic about things and giving up to the social evil of prostitution lets try to defeat it through right governance,job opportunities for women,job opportunities for Transgenders,development activities for women who are due to their situations in life are drawn towards prostitution.At the end of the day it should be noted that not even a single sex worker is happy about doing the work they do.

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biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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