Prostitution is a profession which includes sale of sexual services in return for payment. India is the home to Asia’s largest red light district namely Kamathipura in Mumbai. Debate on prostitution in India is swinging in the rift between social and legal acceptance. Societal attitudes towards prostitutes reflect marginalization and discrimination. Adding to that is the apparent absence of any legal aid to atleast give them a sense of security. Government’s stand against prostitution in India isn’t oriented towards integrating prostitutes into our society but to eliminate the risks that profession entails like human trafficking and spread of STD’s.
1. Prostitution is not a crime in India
The Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA) of 1985 is the major law governing sex trade in India. This law does not criminalize prostitution but penalizes certain aspects of it like pimping, running brothels, trafficking women into sex trade and soliciting in public. The law allows selling sex as long as it doesn’t involve all the above aspects. So, in India prostitution is partially legal but living off the wages of sex work by pimps and middlemen is illegal.
2. Facilitating or propagating the profession is punishable and illegal
More than often law enforcers in India miss the very objective of the law. As the law stands it clearly states that those who live off the earnings of sex work like pimps, brothel owners and sex traffickers should be strictly punished not the sex workers. Only those sex workers can be punished who solicit and seduce clients in public. If the law is to be upheld the age old police practice of raiding private rooms in search of prostitutes needs to be stopped immediately to achieve the larger objective of the law and police should rather invest their resources in curbing sex trafficking.
3. The nature of the law forces the profession to be operated under radar
The circumstance under which this trade operates makes it necessary for brothels and pimps to exist because an independent sex worker is vulnerable to violence and sexual assaults. Pimps and brothels give sex workers a sense of security. It is undeniably true that most pimps and middlemen exploit sex workers nevertheless they are inseparable part of this trade. As the law doesn’t allow sex trade to be carried out in brothels with the assistance of middlemen, the current scenario of prostitution in India becomes practically illegal forcing the trade to operate under the radar.
4. Despite sex traffickers being the main culprits, it is the sex workers who are harassed
In 2016 Supreme Court made it clear that consensual sexual activity between two adults is not illegal. Running brothels is unlawful and urged police to stay off from sex workers but that is yet to be brought into reality. Most of the arrests made under ITPA include prostitutes and clients. However, the police rarely bust traffickers who are forcing children and young women into sex trade.
Sex workers are beaten up by the police and are demanded bribes and trading sexual favors is also very common. This is something sex workers have to deal on regular basis. Police department’s repressive attitude towards prostitutes undermines the basic fundamental rights of prostitutes as humans. Right to live with dignity and right to protection simply don’t apply to them. Most of the violence inflicted on sex workers goes unnoticed with police doing little to nothing to alleviate the pain.