Why I Support The NCW Chief’s Call To Legalise Sex Trade In India

Posted on October 29, 2014 in Society, Specials

By Bhavya Kumar:

A very basic understanding of organized and unorganized sectors in India is more than enough to understand why most workers in India suffer from serious human rights violations, which isn’t talked about much, and which can’t be addressed by institutions like the courts and the police. Something which has always been out of the bounds of law cannot seek the redressal from the same. It should be now easier to imagine how many similar cases go unnoticed in the case of prostitution, which holds a strange status in India. While the sale of sex is not illegal (that too under multiple circumstances, which indirectly ask it to be discreet and deal very nominally with related matters like sexual interaction with minors), many factors integral to this sale are illegal.

Laws deal with the more superficial elements of the whole business of prostitution. There still is the need to venture inside the business directly to be able to regulate it. Pimping, money laundering, and trafficking are all banned, but it still doesn’t help anything in a country as large as India, where circumvention doesn’t take much, and passes without attention. Even if the motive is to discourage, it shouldn’t be just banned. It should be subjected to scrutiny, and run through various processes. For instance, pimping in the Netherlands requires a license to do so. All the formalities that it demands, and the consequence of lack of compliance, is enough to check this business.

Hazel Thompson, a British photojournalist, covers Kamathipura in her work called “Taken”. Kamathipura was one of the “comfort zones” set up by the colonial governments for the military. One of the largest red light areas in Asia, it is mostly handled by larger underground criminal circles. Trafficking is rampant, and exploring the media produced on Kamathipura and G.B. Road, anti-trafficking laws look like a tremendous failure. Brothels are illegal, as per the ITPA, 1956, and successive amendments. How will this act function when the institution and only its management are subject to prosecution, and not the rings in which these brothels operate? Banning isn’t the solution; constant intervention, interruption and strict persecution is. A prostitute can operate the business in certain circumstances, for instance, privacy of an establishment, away from “public areas”, and so on. But, this is not addressing the problem directly. The attack shouldn’t be on the individual perceived to be committed in such an act; looking at the ground reality, it is never an individual effort. Anti-trafficking laws will work when what induces this trafficking is made available to the scrutiny of law.

It may be considered as an immoral act by the society, but prostitution is a dynamic industry in India; and just because it is not regulated, it is easier to commit related crimes within the circle. The idea to criminalize prostitution, as proposed by Hazel Thompson herself, in my opinion, will make the matters worse. With over two million sex workers already engaged, I imagine this to be a hard task to undertake, with graver repercussions. Suppression of sale of sex will mean nastier forms of the same reemerging.

The idea of legalization of prostitution has been toyed around with for quite some time. Among the very recent attempts at getting the legal status allotted to sale of sex, the National Commission for Women is to propose this legalization again. Supreme Court, in 2009, raised this very question of legalization of prostitution. The idea is to be able to monitor this industry, reduce exploitation of the workers engaged and intervene for the welfare of the workers. This will mean that the redressal sought by workers, monitoring money generated by this business, international sex tourism, and other securities will be easier to gain. Involvement of children can be handled very well by a comprehensive system of registration and licenses, as observed in other nations. Brothels can be subjected to inspections and raids, and hence their multiple roles in organized trafficking could be brought under check.

I am reminded of the movie “Talaash” (2012). I usually find myself at a loss when it comes to analyzing films, but, as an ordinary audience, I quickly absorbed certain things that the film was about. Prostitutes and their treatment, their rights as workers, and the many issues that cannot be addressed, such as misbehavior on the part of the client, mismanagement by their employers et cetera, will be something about which they can do something. Legalizing prostitution will be rendering them power. I don’t claim that this imagined legal construction will be flawless, and there still shall be circumventions. But, legalizing it, and rendering the state ability to venture into this industry, will make it much more organized and transparent to those who want to do something about it.

However, not everyone supports this idea. In my view, I can broadly outline those who profit by the illegal bounties that the business yields and those who bear a conventional outlook, where obscenity is best kept under veil or stark opacity. These outlines often blend into one another. The concept of paid sex is not regarded honorable, and hence, it is not a work. But, then, there’s a need to define what exactly is “work”. I understand work as commercial equation, and there are all sorts of work. But the social consequences that follow this commercial equation, where abstract and material matters are sold for a certain amount, introduce the idea of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable by the society and the state. The ground reality is very complex. Unacceptability of prostitution doesn’t need to translate into illegality, especially when it needs to be addressed. What needs to be realized is prostitution itself isn’t a problem; even if it is a problem, then one must understand that it shall stay put for a long time to come. For us, at the moment, the best that can be done is to make this industry open and engage directly with the many complications and issues that it houses.

What is currently being done by the opposition of legalized prostitution is ignoring the matter, despite the fact the prostitution and the trafficking that it induces leaves this society with a larger problem unaddressable, and allowed to grow. To eliminate the problems with prostitution, the policy that should be practiced need to confront and dominate the industry, instead of ignoring and maintaining distance.