Legalising Prostitution in India

Prostitution in India

Prostitution in India

Prostitution is regarded as the oldest profession in the world and there are several countries with long histories of this activity. India is one of those countries. Back in the era of kingdoms, courtesans were accorded regal status of sorts. However, the situation is now not that good for people involved in the profession. Most of them live in sordid conditions and once they get in there is almost no way out of the quagmire. In fact in India, there are several locations where prostitution happens to be the only way to generate any income.

These locations are Wadia in Gujarat, Natpurwa in Uttar Pradesh, Bachara tribe in Madhya Pradesh, and Devdasis in Karnataka. Natpurwa is inhabited by people belonging to the Nat caste. They have a tradition of 400 years. The Devdasis are basically young girls married off to Goddess Yellamma at a tender age and then forced into prostitution for the rest of their lives. At Wadia it is the menfolk of the village who find suitors for the women. In case of Bachara tribe the eldest daughter in the family is forced to become a prostitute.

Is prostitution legal in India?

As far as laws are concerned, prostitution in India is not illegal per se. However, Indian penal code states that certain activities related to prostitution are contraventions of law. They may be enumerated as below:

• Soliciting such services at public places
• Carrying out such activities in hotels
• Kerb crawling
• Pandering
• Being an owner of a brothel or even running one
• Pimping

Now the situation is such that the aforementioned activities are integral to the profession itself. So, does by outlawing them the Indian legal system say that prostitution is effectively illegal? That is a question that needs to be pondered seriously.

Laws related to prostitution

The most basic law regarding the sex workers’ status The Immoral Traffic (Suppression) Act was passed in 1956. It is also referred to as SITA. This law states that prostitutes are allowed to ply their trade in private but they cannot carry out their business in the open. An article published in BBC states that prostitution is illegal in India. Indian laws however do not regard sex in exchange of money as prostitution. As per laws, clients can be arrested if they indulge in any sexual activity in public. Even though exchange of sex for money is permissible on an individual capacity, a lady cannot do it in within a span of 200 yards of a public place. Sex workers are not within the ambit of normal labour laws. However, they have all the rights that would be enjoyed by a citizen and are entitled to be rescued and rehabilitated if they want to do so.

However, SITA is not used as such. At times, different sections of the IPC are employed to bring charges of supposed-criminal acts like public indecency against sex workers. They can also be accused of being public nuisance. The problem is there is no clear definition of what these crimes constitute and sex workers are basically left to the whims of the officials who bring the charges against them. SITA has recently been changed to become PITA or The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act. There have been several attempts to change this law so that a bigger slice of blame can be placed on the clients. However, the Union Health Ministry has opposed such developments. These days, insurance companies are coming forward and insuring sex workers.

Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act – ITPA

The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act was passed in 1986 and is an amendment of the SITA. As per this law prostitutes will be arrested for soliciting their services or seducing others. In the same vein, call girls are not allowed to make their phone numbers public. They can be imprisoned for a maximum of 6 months along with financial penalties if they are caught doing so.

Clients who consort with prostitutes or indulge in such activities within 200 yards of a designated area can be imprisoned for a maximum of 3 months and they need to pay fines for the same as well. In case, someone indulges in such activities with someone under 18 years old, he or she can be jailed between 7-10 years. Pimps and similar people who live from the income made by a prostitute are guilty as well. For that matter, if an adult man lives with a prostitute he can be regarded as guilty. If he cannot prove himself to be innocent, he can face imprisonment between 2-4 years.

People who run businesses such as brothel-keepers and landlords are liable to be prosecuted as well as they are considered to be illegal. In case of the first offence they will be imprisoned for a maximum of 3 years. In case they forcibly keep someone in their brothel to be used as a prostitute or exploited for sexual purposes, they can be jailed for a minimum of 7 years.

This law also forbids prostitution in hotels. People involved in human trafficking or trying to recruit someone – either forcibly or willingly – are liable to be jailed between 3-7 years.

It is the legal responsibility of the government to rescue and rehabilitate such women and place them in protective homes. For the purpose of this law, locations such as places of worship, hostels, educational institutions, and hospitals are regarded as public places. Brothel is a place, which is inhabited by more than a couple of sex workers.

Should prostitution be legalised in India?

As per official statistics there are 3 million sex workers in India. There are several women in India who get in the business because they are in need of money. However, there are also plenty of people, who are forced into the business. The All India Network of Sex Workers President, Bharati Dey states that people become prostitutes of their own accord and they need to be given the same rights as others. In the last few years, the industry has witnessed tremendous growth, and most of the new entrants are women from the rural areas with little or no education. For some of them casual labour with little payment is the way to go, while for others sex, with higher pay, is a much better choice.

The arguments in favour

Groups, such as one headed by Dey, want sex trade to come out in the open. During April 2015 there was a session on acts of crime against women. There it was said that the fact that if India was able to decriminalize sex work, it will place women in the country in a better position. In 2009, Supreme Court had suggested that prostitution be made legal. The National Commission for Women, a national-governmental body, has changed its stance on the issue as well. Lalitha Kumaramangalam, its head, has stated that if prostitution is properly regulated then authorities would be in a better position to stop trafficking, especially that of children.

It would also help in improving the squalid conditions in which the clients and workers operate and reduce the spread of HIV-AIDS as well as any other disease. On 8 November she presented the case to a Supreme Court special panel, which looked to change the law. Mayank Austen Soofi has been writing about the brothels of GB Road, Delhi and says that all the sex workers he has interacted with wish to be accorded legal status. They are weary about going to doctors and always afraid of being harassed by the police. They also live with the possibility of being expelled by their landlords in case they come to know what they do for a living.

The arguments against

Without a shadow of a doubt, ending of forced prostitution has to be the focus of any activity directed against prostitution right now. An anti-trafficking group named Apne Aap says that the traffickers, who also double up as brokers, pay low sums to the parents of the young girls and girl children in villages and then these hapless souls are subjected to rape repeatedly. Quite often, police and NGOs raid these outfits and rescue the girls but it is of no use since their families sell them again to the same broker. According to Apne Aap, more than 30% of sex workers in India are under the age group of 18 years.

This group is evidently against giving legal status to prostitution. It says that with greater demand for sex, the amount of trafficking will only increase. It was also running a campaign named Cool Men Don’t Buy Sex in order to bring down such demands. From the looks of it, this programme never really became the success that they were hoping it to be and as of now the chances of prostitution being legalized are also rather low. BJP is known to be a conservative party and it is unexpected that it will provide its stamp of approval to sex trade, which is expected to be in the shadows for the time being.


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