By Antra Bhaskar*
Dark lipstick, loud makeup, bold clothes, curvaceous body, standing near a shady area waiting for a client, all these things come to our mind when we think of sex workers in India. However, we fail to realize that majority of sex worker India is clandestine due to unfavorable legal environment and discrimination against female sex workers. According to a survey conducted across Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu from September 2019 to November 2019, by Sarvojana Coalition, an NGO that works towards the empowerment of sex worker said 68% of women sex workers in India entered the profession ‘voluntarily’, due to factors such as lack of education and poverty.
We fail to realize that some of these activities have come up from our old customs. In the southern part of India, the word “Devdasi”, an old custom where girls are devoted as a servant of God, is a euphemism for referring to women in prostitution in the name of the religion. Apart from being seen as untouchable by the community, they have been the victim of verbal abuse, physical assault, and sexual violence by clients. They are also being targeted and harassed by the law enforcement agency. These are some of the reasons that make it necessary to bring a law for legalizing prostitution.
Fight for survival during Covid
As Covid spread, it was a nightmare for this community as it has further pushed them into the dark due to the social distancing that has doomed their present and shadowed their future. There was not an instant revival from the government. Even the line of work they are in is at stake due to the physical proximity it involves.
During my interaction with Pushpa Achanta, associate director of solidarity foundation, who is quite vocal about such issues said the kind of social stigma attached to sex workers also reduces their options for alternate employment. Family of those whose only means of survival was based on this profession were emaciated.
Even though the lockdown has been lifted but the livelihood of such families is in peril. Even if they get the relief, it is the recovery and survival of the profession that scares the community the most.
The saddest part is that now they have to resort to loans for their survival. According to a survey conducted by Asha Care Trust, approximately 85% of sex workers have taken a loan and 98% of them have taken from brothels, money lenders, and managers subjecting them to further exploitation. Another job has resumed their work but for them, it is a farsighted dream.
Problem with the current laws in place
The current law does not protect the sex worker rather show them either in light of a victim or a criminal. The main problem with these laws [Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 (ITPA, Procuration of Minor girls (section 366-A IPC), Importation of Girls (Section-366-B IPC), Selling of Girls for prostitution (Section-372 IPC), Buying of Girls for Prostitution (Section-373 IPC), Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act 1956, Child Marriage Retrain Act, 1929] are that the outlook towards prostitution is something as immoral and unacceptable or something which is hampering the ideology of a perfect society. The current law is such that you can practice prostitution in a private place than in a public place itself put it in a dark light in the eyes of the people. The issue is that people in our society have made a taboo of it and is thriving on these beliefs for ages.
Another thing that we fail to notice that these laws do not acknowledge that it is not only women who are the victim of sexual exploitation but men and transgender also suffer oppression and sexual exploitation. In recent times, we have laws for the LGBTQ community but as a society, we still don’t have a law specific to sex workers which puts them in a much lower position as compared to the LGBTQ community.
Legalization of prostitution
Since a lot of debate and discussion has happened, there is a need for a separate law for the regulation of prostitution in India. Many countries in the world like Canada, France, Germany, Denmark, etc have legalized prostitution.
If prostitution gets legalized in India then it will help in the following ways:
- It will eradicate forced prostitution.
- Protection of minors against sexual exploitation.
- Reduction of sexual violence, abuse, rape, assault.
- Removal of middlemen or Dallal from the system if things get legalized.
- An additional source of revenue for the government as now the profession is legal and benefits can be derived from taxes.
- Regulated health check-ups will reduce the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS
In a society where the practice of prostitution is from ages, it will be incentive and ignorant not to have a law about it. Decriminalizing prostitution and protecting the rights of sex workers will ensure better a better life with basic amenities like health and safety that they are truly entitled to.
The need for decriminalization is a necessary step to remove the evil that is prevailing in the society and a better legal framework will only cater to the betterment of the society. Prostitution is the harsh reality of our country and legalizing it is the first step in safeguarding as life par with the other citizens of the county.
In the end, I would like to end with a famous quote:
“Why it is immoral to be paid for an act that is perfectly legal if done for free?” — Gloria Allred
*Second year student of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad