Prostitution: Not Just for Victims

On 19th May 2022, Supreme Court made a judgement that the Indian society doesn’t seem to be prepared for, neither the government governing it. It called out Prostitution, a world of immoral and characterless humans, as a legal profession, marking a contrast between what is consenting and non-consenting prostitution, ordering the police to refrain to take any legal action against adults who are consent fully engaged, directing the government to launch a sensitization programme for the special police officers (as per ITPA 1956) as they are insensitive to the plight of sex workers not taking their complaint seriously.

(Image Source: BBC)


Prostitution is a difficult area to deal with, largely because of the nature of the business. All the governmental interventions that have happened in the same hasn’t proved efficient in grasping the nature of work and the contradictions that come along. In Immoral trafficking Protection Act of 1956, Prostitution was made “not illegal”, however, it defined it as “means of exploitation and abuse of a person for commercial purpose”. With such an idea in mind about prostitution, it criminalized brothels and pimping that facilitated such exploitation and at the same time criminalized it being conducted in public places, so in one way exploitation was legal only if it was done away from the public eye. This “not illegal” trade of sex considered to be corrupting was to be conducted in place from where it didn’t affect the morality of the young (enunciated in Begum and Anr. vs The State on 12 April, 1962). With this government called on to make the prostitutes to be the victims, and at the same time, there presence to be immoral.


Cut to 2022, where the lives of prostitutes are governed by the same Immoral Trafficking Act just with a few amendments (like that of 1986 and 2006), and more potential from the government side to help the sex workers to get out of prostitution, something that was culminated in form of Ujjwala scheme of 2007. This scheme aimed to facilitate the rescue of the victims (sex workers), providing them with rehabilitation services, helping them reintegrate within the society as whole as a usual citizen, and help the cross-border victims to get back to their homes. As far as it was a much-needed scheme for all the girls and women who are forced into this, it still failed to recognize that many women are into this profession out of want and need, thus continuing with the victim prospect. UPA Government and its narrative of victims of prostitution continued when in backdrop of brutal gangrape of a paramedical student in South Delhi, it pioneered some changes in order to ensure women’s security, one of them included the criminalization of buying sex, hence putting the legal implications on the “clients”, following the footpath paved by the Sweden parliament. As much as it was a progressive move, putting the cause of prostitution on the ones who buy it, in the Indian set up it was just a way of discouraging the sex work, as something indecent and unethical.


Closing one’s eye to the reality of the society, where women take up the profession of a sex worker not because they are coerced into it, but because of poverty, marginalization, or maybe even to satisfy their own sex drive, would never block or put an end to sex work. Criminalization will only shift it underground, away from the governmental regulation, giving a free way for more exploitation.


In the current judgement as well, which is probably one of the historic judgements, an extension of 2016 panel recommendation on which government hasn’t acted upon till date, the supreme court enforce the idea of consenting and non-consenting prostitution, which has made government uneasy as according to them it’s difficult to differentiate between consenting and non-consenting as many of them are coerced to give their consent.


The “woke” generation awaits government stance on prostitution in terms of the law or policy it promises to make, but before any of that is formulated, it should be realized that banning or criminalizing of prostitution would put to rust all the developments we have made in realm of women rights, what need to be focused upon is to analyse and rectify the societal integration of the sex workers, their rights, and the proper governmental regulation of the profession in order to help those who are coerced, violated or deprived.

 

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Brief Bulletin.

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