A prostitute or a tawaif or a devadasi as different times have called them in India — are the facilitators of what some people say the “oldest profession of the world”, Prostitution. It is $100 billion global industry whose legal status varies from country to country, an industry which is unarguably ubiquitous in all the countries with their own variations, an industry whose history can be traced to 4000 years back to ancient Babylon. But surely one must not be naÃ¯ve enough to think that this so called “oldest profession” is driven by need of physical pleasure only, but is rather driven by the economic and psychological distresses which contribute majorly to the entry of prostitutes in this profession.
In India prostitution is legal but the other related activities such as soliciting, pimping and brothels are illegal. There are more than 20 million prostitutes in India if a Human Rights Watch report is to be believed — and as many as 35% of them enter at an age less than 18. Prostitution was once upon a time a theme of Indian literature and arts for centuries. In Indian mythology there are many references of high-class prostitution in the form of celestial demigods acting as prostitutes. They are referred to as Menaka, Rambha, Urvashi, and Thilothamma. They are described as perfect embodiments and unsurpassed beauty and feminine charms. Even during the medieval period and rule of mughals they were treated very royally — Sanskrit plays have been written on this, even now, they form a central theme for many movies. Some of these movies have been able to provide an insight to the plight of the prostitutes in our country. But the true face still lies hidden. Ever since the downfall of Mughal Empire the conditions have deteriorated to deplorable levels. Exploring through the causes of prostitution, the first and the foremost factor is Poverty.
Poverty is one of the main causes which brings helpless woman to the doors of prostitution. A woman distressed economically, often ill treated by parents or seduced by boyfriend who later turns out to be a pimp or procurer, and lastly uneducated or with a very low education level seldom finds any other avenues to feed herself other than prostitution. There are other social factors which are degrade the status of a woman. One such factor is the view of women being a commodity – which is pervasive in popular manifestations of culture in India. The harsh reality is, that women who have had sexual experiences are considered to be ‘used goods‘ or ‘characterless’ and are unlikely to ever marry. She becomes an impoverished cultural outcast.
Religious prostitutes, child prostitutes, rapes, inability to arrange marriage are some of the other reasons which pushes the woman on the downslide from which there is no coming back.
India is one of the biggest market for prostitution in Asia with Mumbai alone accommodating 200,000 prostitutes. Trafficking, sex tourism and ‘clandestine’ nature of the industry is further imposing problems and spread of HIV/AIDS is on the rise at an alarming rate with woman being more prone to infection. Because of such nature and lack of regulatory body the real magnitude of severity of the actual situation cannot be comprehended.
The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act or PITA, a 1986 amendment of legislation passed in 1956 provides for the rehabilitation for the sex workers, who come forward and demand it, but what good does it serve if the families of these rescued women do not accept them back. These schemes need to have an empowering impact for these women. These women should be provided vocational training and education and their products should be marketed so that they do not face the same trouble all over again.
Lately there have been questions rising with the growing importance of the mandate of legalizing prostitution in India. While that is certainly not a great solution for the given problems which require more of a paradigm shift in the mindset of people, but given the clandestine nature and no regulation of industry, it would certainly be a step towards damage control. Legalizing would pave way for licenses and registration, whereby workers would have their own identity, access to public facilities, and other services. A serious check on the spread of HIV/AIDS will help in controlling the other related activities which have associated with the prostitution etc.