Keerthana Ramaswamy

The Legalisation Conundrum

Prostitutes in India have never been treated well. They are frowned upon by the society and considered morally loose, debauched, lascivious and the one of the main reasons behind the decadence of India. Granted, they have never been treated well outside India too. But does something that endorses what is a majoritarian outlook make it passable and somewhat okay? This is something we ought to ask ourselves.

Prostitution is legal in India.

Yes, you read right. You see, the main statute that deals with prostitution is: PITA (Prevention of Immoral Traffic Act).Under which, prostitution per se is not stated to be illegal (i.e. at least not explicitly), although trafficking is, and soliciting for sex in public places is. It cleverly circumvents the pimps, traffickers, money lenders, organized crime and clients from the line of crossfire. Instead, it criminalizes the women (and transgender, queers and the minority males) in prostitution, commodifies them and further victimizes them. It grants unprecedented powers to the police force that is abused and exploited. And, as a result of the androcentric views perpetuating in the society, the ever emanating demand for paid-sex is never questioned.

This does not auger well. Not for the society at large and the women-children caught in the shackles of the mess that is prostitution, in particular. They are unable to garner access to health-education resources (that should be available to them as their basic right), are socially repressed, forcefully rehabilitated, factually disbelieved and effectively made subservient. More too often, they find themselves addicted to the abominable drugs/liquor which in turn compromises their cognitive-decision making faculties and capabilities.

Prostitutes however tend to display obvious apathy and indifference to the treatment meted out to them (the proliferation of prostitution in India is a proof enough of the same). The same society that berates them, utilizes their ‘services’ when the need arises. This in turn, points out the hopeless double-standard and hypocrisy that exists and is intrinsically embedded in the social-milieu in which we all play a role. The constant infantilization of prostitutes does not help the situation. Their opinions are entirely negated or worse romanticized/distorted/taken along a particular line of thought due to the way we, the society perceive their line of profession.

The proponents of gender equality generally tend to treat the issue of prostitution in two ways.

One view is that the allowing the continuance of prostitution equates contravention of basic human rights (which obviously includes women-LGBTQI rights).Their feeling is that any support garnered for prostitution (that too legislatively) would only; go on to further embody the gender bigotry existing in India. The other fraction opines that bodily-sexual autonomy ought to take precedence. They argue that sex-work ought to be treated as any other work and that if prostitution is the choice then the same should be in fact encouraged and definitely not harangued.

But the question is: Are women-in-prostitution exercising free choice if they are in the sex-trade?

No. It is certainly not free choice if it is influenced by poverty and coercion. The one thing that prostitution certainly achieves is: efficacy in relegating their position in the social strata and diminishing their basic rights (as a human) to non-existence.

So in order to paint a semblance of normality and for the mere sake of contestation if one professes ‘But, Prostitution is the oldest profession in the world!’. Trisha Baptie (an activist) says this instead-‘Prostitution is the oldest form of oppression in the world’.

Approximately four years ago, the apex court of India gave a suggestion to the government to consider if there was any leeway for legalizing prostitution.

Recently, Lalitha Kumaramangalam, chairperson of National Commission for Women (NCW) pronounced her decision to place a proposal echoing the same before the SC panel for approval. It aims to increase their economic independence and reduce the incidences of trafficking in women and sexually transmitted diseases (HIV/STD’s); all within a regulatory framework. The recommendation has drawn its share of flak. Many activists feel that the impact would be regressive and the schematics of the amendment would benefit only the pimps/brothel owners or worse embolden them.

Irrespective of what the counsel is, the one thing I know is that changes in the strictures of legal framework are necessitated. The changes should be able to correct the power imbalance existing; freeing prostitutes from the constant ostracisation and ridicule. And, it is imperative that India does this soon.

Otherwise achieving the Millennium Development goals (MDGs),specifically, Goal 6; Target 6 A, of halting HIV-AIDS by 2015 would undoubtedly be in question.

Source (Quotation, facts): Google

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About the Author

Passionate feminist, straight ally and an avid doodler. Believes purpose of one’s life should be larger than self. First year Social Work student at Madras School of Social Work, Chennai.

Keerthana Ramaswamy
Keerthana Ramaswamy

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