As a novel method to clear Delhi’s tarnished reputation amongst foreigners, the South Delhi Municipal Corporation plans to impose restrictions on—wait for it—massage parlours. Henceforth, no cross gender massages shall be allowed, there will be a stricter implementation of the laws concerning the minimum age for masseurs, and all visitors are required to report any massage parlour or spa violating these rules.
The focus on implementing the laws concerning minimum age and qualifications of masseurs is a welcome step and one that is long overdue: this will heavily discourage any forced recruitment and/or exploitation of youth while ensuring participation of masseurs who are fully willing. However, it is completely absurd to regulate a perfectly legal practice by mandating that masseurs of one gender only be allowed to provide services for the same—it is an insult to trained and qualified individuals, devalues their professionalism and can affect their careers and income.
The basis of this rule’s imposition is to be found in the ubiquitous Indian “sanskar”: the compulsion to morally police and control everything around yourself which you don’t like or understand. It is deeply rooted in internalised misogyny as well. Women make up the majority of service providers in the Indian massage market–and the shock, the horror to think they could retain a semblance of professionalism under any circumstance.
As far as the SDMC is concerned, masseuses all lack work ethic and skill and are willing to sell themselves, not their work, in each one of Delhi’s 2400 massage parlours. Moreover, the generalisation of pooling in all businesses with those where unlawful practices such as forced prostitution and exploitation of women go on will only provide a cover to the latter for continuing completely undeterred. No one wins, except Kamaljeet Sehrawat’s ego.
Consider another factor which contributes to Delhi’s tainted reputation: how unsafe it is for women. Grown women are uneasy going out at night with friends; schoolgirls are afraid to walk home from tuition classes—and with good reason. Going by 2018’s statistics, five women in Delhi were raped daily. Out of all rape trials in India, less than one-fourth lead to convictions. There are reports daily of minor girls—some being infants of only a few months of age—being molested and raped by acquaintances, neighbours, their own families. There is little to no legal or police protection for survivors undergoing high profile trials, as the Unnao survivor’s family and witnesses being picked off one by one have shown. Girls are found gaping open, strewn across fields and paths like roadside litter and treated worse than if they had been.
Delhi’s women aren’t safe; they haven’t felt safe in a long time.
Here’s a thought for the authorities: instead of imposing Sanskari restrictions on legal businesses and professional masseurs, do something about the rape problem. Perhaps then Delhi’s reputation can be uplifted—not only while paying lip service to visitors from abroad, but amongst its women.