As per the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, 1956, prostitution means “the sexual exploitation or abuse of persons for commercial purposes or for consideration in money or in any other kind, and the expression ‘prostitute’ shall be construed accordingly.” However, it is to be noted that the act doesn’t criminalize prostitution per se; it only criminalizes certain instances of prostitution; it criminalizes prostitution in brothels; i.e., any place where two or more prostitutes practice their trade or a single prostitute practices her trade for the gain of another person, not for her own gain; it criminalizes living on the earnings of a prostitute with a rebutable presumption that any adult habitually in the company of a prostitute is living on her earnings; it criminalizes prostitution in vicinity of a public place; it criminalizes soliciting clients in a public place; and it obviously criminalizes all kinds of trafficking, explicit or implicit, for the purpose of prostitution; however, the most contoversial provision is the one providing for removal of prostitutes from any place, whatsoever, by a DM/SDM/Executive Magistrate within his local jurisdiction in general public interest— it is to be noted that police officers are often given the powers of executive magistrates.
From the above, it clearly emerges that prostitutes, irrespective of their mode of practice, are considered as out-castes. They are not allowed to associate with the community at large as of right, and, even in the cases of individual interactions, there is hardly any chance for them to interact with the people other than those from thier own profession, for anybody seen habitually with a prostitute runs the risk of being called her parasite and thus a criminal; they also can’t form partnerships or solicit clients freely, thus restriciting their practice of their profession.
It seems there are already talks to amend the Act. In 2006 as well, a bill was introduced but it lapsed. The bill deleted the provisions putting restrictions on soliciting clients and providing for removal of prostitutes.
I think the section 20 of the Act providing for removal of prostitutes is extremely derogatory. A prostitute without being termed a criminal is, nevertheless, being treated like one. She is being left at the mercy of the community to be accepted as a regular resident/citizen, which, more often than not, is denied, and, thus, the prostitutes tend to congregate and live their limited existence in ghettos like G. B. Road, Sonagachi, Kamathipura, etc.; and then the community conveniently designate these areas as “red-light” areas — or, should we say the law regularized the derogatory practice of the society? So, the amendment deleting this provision was certainly welcome.
However, the other amendment deleting Section 8 of the Act providing for restrictions on soliciting clients in a public place was not welcome. The solicitation of clients for the purpose of prostitution would obviously not be decent because the society doesn’t consider sex per se to be a decent activity, which, in a way, is also correct — if ever, only nuns and popes would enter into disciplined decent acts; the rest would do sex passionately and wildly. So, the solicitation of clients for paid sex would naturally tend to be indecent: Who will ever go to a prostitute wearing black robe with wide collars? I would say the solicitation of clients by prostitutes is a tricky issue; some kind of official list of prostitutes with contact details for further private communication displayed at public places, is the best way to advertise prostitution.
However, I think the pro-prostitution proponents want greater freedom for prostitutes in the practise of their profession: They would like them to form partnerships, appoint pimps and managers, and even open licenced brothels. There are certainly some very ulterior motives involved in all this. There are people who don’t only want to earn huge dollar/rupee profits from prostitution but also want to use women as currency, which can be laundered and re-minted almost perpetually; and they are trying to shoot from behind the shoulders of prostitutes. Their motives are clear from the kinds of debates they hold in media: They keep terming prostitution as illegal — but which it is not as per law — and, in disguise of giving dignity to the prostitutes, they want to run industries where women would be labour, capital and goods, all at the same time, but, nevertheless, under the control of the capitalists; they want to make rape an industry. The present BJP government was expected to help them in their motives, but this soon! That was not expected. I would say this debate has thrown up a very serious challenge before the real women rights activists against the fakesters. They will have to guard against any attempt, however indirect and remote, of the present government to legalise any kind of trafficking and/or industrialization of women. The status quo wrt provisions restricting formation of prostitute partnerships or even restriciting their free individual associations will have to be maintained for the better good of protecting women against their own commodification — elsewhere, I have said that a prostitute has every right to get married like normal girls but only after leaving the profession, and, here, I reiterate it.
And, if you wish, you may also visit some of my other posts on women and man-woman relationships:
Men May Always Remain Dogs; What About Women?
Dress Code for Women
Need for New Sexual Morality for Teenage Girls
Rape and Violence Against Women
Rape or Infringement of Privacy
Girlfriend – Moving Beyond Devi/Dasi/Devdasi
© 2014 Ankur Mutreja