Prostitution in India is the oldest profession. It is a general misconception that prostitution in India is illegal, rather prostitution is legal but pimping, owning and managing brothel is illegal. Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata are the major cities in India where brothels are operating illegally in large numbers. Prostitution in itself is neither illegal nor punishable under the act.
“Baap, bhai, beta, shohar…Begam Jaan ki chaukhat ke us paar, har mard murga hota hai…teen taangon wala murga” as regressive as this dialogue sounds from movie Begam Jaan, Indian cinema from time to time has portrayed the ugly side of society (prostitution) which not only exists parallel to our society but it’s roots have gone deep into the Indian society.
Compared to last century, today prostitution in India has flourished into a full-fledged multibillion dollar industry alone in India, with around two hundred thousand brothels, millions of commercial sex workers and this all just for sake of money. For a long time, the base for client-age of the Prostitution in India use to be truck drivers, migrant workers, but as a growing trend it seems to clients from every section of society. Now a days even men have found prostitution as a easy way to earn quick money.
“Sleeping with strangers for gain does not come naturally for women. Yet to succeed as a prostitute, you must disguise your love of money as natural desire for the man himself. Prove to him that he, not his money inspires your Devine lust by always seeming selflessly devoted. Don’t be too obviously grasping; use your wits to fleece him intelligently.” – Kamasutra
History of Prostitution in India
Indian history is full of stories where we get to encounter stories related to music, dance, and theatre which were mostly associated with entertainment and prostitution. Back then it was considered as an art form used for entertainment for royal or upper castes in India. We all can relate this from a very famous Bollywood movie devdas, where it was highlighted beautifully that how girls involved in the prostitution are meant only to entertain people and have no other life of their own.
From the ancient era of ‘dasi system’ to modern ‘Prostitute’ system, India has travelled a long way, not just in terms of how we perceive this profession of Prostitution on morality grounds but also how we as society of India have turned away from accepting prostitution as a profession.
Today, many girls are kidnapped, tricked or some pick prostitution as a profession in India to raise money in order to support their families. In one of the survey it was found that a third of all prostitutes in India renter this trade because of poverty and more than a fourth opts the profession of prostitution in India after marital problems.
Have you ever thought that what happened in due course of development of our Indian society that we as society are hesitant to talk about sex, prostitution when our ancestors were so open to even display it as statues and worship it? So real question that arises ‘is prostitution legal in India’?
The answer is yes! Prostitution is legal in India but only partially. Article 19 (g) of the Indian Constitution which gives right to practice any profession to the citizens of the country, also allows anyone to practice this as a profession but unlike other professions it is not legal to practice it, and is governed by The Immoral Traffic (Suspension) Act, 1956 (SITA) and The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1986 (PITA).
Prostitutes in India
A majority of the sex workers working in India surveyed by an NGO revealed that they did not choose the profession of Prostitution in India by themselves but were rather forced to take out of necessity, for some it was due to fall out of marriage to support themselves, for some it was taken after being disowned by family and for some, they were tricked by their family member or acquaintance under delusion of good money.
The breakdown of the agents of the prostitution in India is as follows: 76% of the agents were female and 24% were males. Over 80% of the agents bring young women into the profession of the Prostitution in India without caring about the legal aspect of same were known people and not traffickers: neighbours, relatives, etc.
Also prevalent in parts of Bengal state of India is the Chukri System, whereby a female is coerced into prostitution to pay off debts, as a form of bonded labour, which is completely illegal. In this system of Prostitution in India, the prostitute generally works without pay for one year or longer to repay a supposed debt to the brothel owner for food, clothes, make-up and living expenses. In India, the Government’s “central sponsored scheme” provides financial or in-kind grants to released bonded labourers and their family members, the report noted, adding over 2,850,000 people have benefited to date.
Over 40% of 484 prostituted girls rescued from the profession of illegal prostitution in India during major raids of brothels in Mumbai in 1996 were from Nepal. In India one estimate calculated that as many as 200,000 Nepalese girls, many under the age of 14, were sold into sexual slavery during the 1990s to boost the not so legal profession of prostitution in India.
Some women and girls are by tradition born into prostitution in India to support the family. The Bachara Tribe, for example, follow this tradition with eldest daughters often expected to be prostitutes and they are forced to join the profession of prostitution in India which is not legal at all.
States of India such as Mumbai and Kolkata (Calcutta) have the India’s largest brothel based sex industry, with over 100,000 sex workers in Mumbai and keeping the profession of prostitution alive in India. It is estimated that HIV among prostitutes have largely fallen, in last decade. Reaching women who are working in brothels has proven to be quite difficult due to the sheltered and secluded nature of the work, where pimps, Mashis, and brothel-keepers often control the profession of prostitution in India and access to the women and prevent their access to education, resulting in a low to modest literacy rate for many sex workers indulged in Prostitution in India. Despite this, several projects were launched in red light districts of Kolkata and a rise in use of condoms was seen from 27% in 1992 to 86% in 2001.
Brothels in India
Brothels are commonly places where prostitutes can be straightforwardly accessed. Though illegal but de jure, brothels in India are very much in practice and are highly indulged in the profession of prostitution but are mostly restricted to certain confined regions of any given town (red light districts). Though without any official sanction (as it is not legal), little or no effort is usually made to eradicate or inhibit the profession of prostitution from India.
India’s largest best known red light districts for prostitution are in Kolkata, Gwalior, Kamathipura, Sonapur in Mumbai and G.B Road in New Delhi, that host thousands of sex workers who are indulged in the profession of prostitution. Estimates show that these brothels in India are run on a several illegal trafficking of girls on all levels, from age of 14 to 50, Indian, Nepali, Bengali, Bangladeshi, Russian, college girls to housewife’s.
Prostitutes and Truck Drivers in India
Prostitution is considered as one of the reasons in spread of HIV-AIDS in India. Truck drivers in India who are often away from home for a long time periods tend to indulge into sexual activities with prostitutes and are considered to be major consumer base of Prostitution. It is roughly estimated that 25 to 80% of the prostitutes across India have reported to have HIV-AIDS. The ratio of these women having sex with truckers range from 3-4 men a day, often engaging in act without any protection, which not only increases the risk of getting infected but also risk of transmitting the disease to others unintentionally.
The first reported incident of AIDS from the prostitution profession came into limelight in 1986, when few Tamil prostitutes were diagnosed positive. Since then it has been seen that in most cases, this disease got spread along side of highway routes often used by trucks. From there it is assumed that prostitutes passed this disease to truckers, who later passed it to their wives or other prostitutes. In one of the case, a prostitute reported to times that she believes to got infected while she was of young age and from then she has roughly slept with ~3000 men.
Such incidents have raised serious concerns and a urgent need for proper sex education among sex workers who are most vulnerable to get infected. This also raised the debate that prostitution should be completely debarred from being legal in India.
Prostitution and legality involved
According to Indian Penal Code, certain activities related to sex are not considered illegal per se and contradict laws that are in place. However, activities as enumerated below are found to be true, one is entitled to be punished in accordance to laws of the legal arena in place.
Soliciting services of prostitution at public places;
Carrying out prostitution activities in hotels
Being owner of a brothel
Indulge in prostitution by arranging sex worker
Arrangement of a sex act with a customer
Now the situation is such that the activities mentioned above are very much real and exist along side. So does by outlawing them the Indian legal system makes prostitution illegal? Because in most cases, government officials are tend to ignore this fact that illegal trafficking of women and children is the root cause of growing prostitution as a business.
The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 was brought into force in order to legalise and restrict the act of prostitution. According to this law, prostitutes can practice their trade privately but cannot showcase it in public.
Section 7 of the PITA, states that it is illegal to carry out the profession of prostitute with the distance of 200 meters of any public place like a place of worship, educational institutions, hospitals or hotels (Yes! Hotels too). Hence, in any place which is 200 meters away from any of these above mentioned place, the act of prostitution can be carried out, away from public view.
Surprisingly, these laws are meant only with regard to women involved in this profession and nowhere are male prostitutes recognised by any law in India. And due to this reason, consensual sex (anal intercourse) between two adults of the same gender is prohibited under Section 377 of Indian Penal Code. These acts also states that if any person, who is major and is dependent on earnings of prostitution, shall be punished under Section 4.
Damn, even here laws seems to be gender biased and act of ‘Male prostitution’ needs to be recognised, since any man living along with a prostitute is assumed to be living on earnings of the prostitute like a pimp, making life of male sex workers as miserable and unrecognisable.
The act defines child as any person who has yet not completed eighteen years of age. If a person if found with a child it is assumed that he has detained that child there for the purpose of sexual intercourse and hence shall be punishable to seven year in prison up to life imprisonment, or a term which may extend to ten year and also a maximum fine of one lakh rupees.
If a child is found in a brothel and after medical examination has been found to have been sexually abused, it is assumed that the child has been detained for the purpose of prostitution.
Any person committing prostitution in public with a child shall be punishable to seven year in prison up to life imprisonment, or a term which may extend to ten year and also a maximum fine of one lakh rupees.
If prostitution of a child is being committed with knowledge of an establishment owner such as a hotel the license of the hotel is likely to be cancelled along with the given prison sentence and/or fines.
Any child found in a brothel or being abused for the purpose of prostitution can be placed in an institution for their safety by a magistrate. Landlords, leasers, owner, agent of the owner who unknowingly previously rented their property to a person found guilty of prostituting a child, must get approval from a magistrate before re-leasing their property for three years after the order is passed.
If any person is who is in a position or in charge, causes or aids or abets the seduction for prostitution shall be punishable with imprisonment of seven years or for life time and shall be liable to fine. (Section 9)
Under Section 14 of this act, any offence which is punishable under this section shall be considered as a cognizable offence within the meaning of code of civil procedure.
Under Section 18 of this act, magistrate upon proper information and in violation of Section 7 (1) of the act, may order to close any house, hotel, brothel or any property which is being used by any person or by prostitutes for the carrying on their trade, issues notice of closure or eviction.
Though these laws sound like this profession is illegal but if done in accordance to laws stated, it seems to be partially legal as well.