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Is India Ready For Complete Legalization Of Prostitution?

Posted on July 18, 2014 in Society

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