Prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, it is said. Every day we read so many articles about it, some favouring prostitution, while some are against it; some calling it against our culture, while some refer to the Vedas to claim that it isn’t against Indian culture. Whatever the Vedas may say, today, more than half India’s population is against this prostitution. With the culture of silence that has developed around the issue, whatever the layman knows about it is either through prejudices that have been passed on or articles in the paper that catch one’s eye. Till now we have been indifferent towards this issue, acting as if it doesn’t even exist, forcing the sex workers to live in misery, but now we need to acknowledge it, analyse it and discuss it.
This profession that is considered to be a blotch on our society, is actually estimated to be an 8.4 billion dollar industry, just in India. Many of the hypocrites who complain about how sex workers have blemished the culture, are the ones who feast on them for without the requisite demand, the sex industry would have never thrived. Going further, we refuse to accept the plight of these sex workers. The only thing that we have done for them is label them as ‘prohibited’. Denied even basic human rights, their lives are nothing but a continuous struggle.
The National Commission for Women recently stated that prostitution should be legalised in India, reigniting the old debate. In a country where the word, “sex”, is considered a taboo despite rapes and sexual crimes being ever so frequent, legalising prostitution was bound to raise many eyebrows. While some thoroughly oppose it, others believe that legalisation can reduce the incidence sexual crimes. There might be substance to the latter argument. With the closure of brothels in 1959, Queensland, Australia experienced a 149% increase in incidents of rape. Most sexual offenders are psychopaths, and a possible psychological explanation lies in that sex is a human necessity with depravity pushing a person to commit such crimes. An example of this manifestation is the recently viral article, in which a tourist shared her experience of how a man masturbated to her in a bus in India. By legalising prostitution, this depravity can be controlled and hence it can reduce the incidence of such crimes.
Our personal like or dislike toward this profession is immaterial with regard to whether or not it should be legalised. The difference between the two matters lies in the truth, which is, that whatever we do, we cannot eliminate prostitution. It is a reality that has always been there, because of which it would be better to legalise it in order to at least protect the rights of the sex workers.
It is disconcerting to even think that there exists a world so removed from the one that we live in, where little girls no older than 10-11 years are sold into the menacing lanes of a red light area. Around ten million children are estimated to be part of the sex trade. Once they are in it they have to trade their existence for survival for the rest of their lives, as there is no escape for them. They are harassed, beaten and left wounded with no one to take care of them. They get pregnant at such a young age, go through abortion and get pregnant again. Their kids, too, go through a tough life devoid of the respect and security that they deserve. Hence, legalisation would ensure that only consenting adults get into this trade and no other, especially a minor is forced into it.
Sex workers are the most marginalised members of society. They are mistreated and harassed throughout their lives, and receive no protection or justice from the law, as they are engaged in an activity that is illegal, and hence do not exist within the official radar of the state, with no official identity documents or even a bank account. What they require is protection. Legalising their profession would ensure their security. They are exploited by pimps, clients and obviously, the police. Once it is legalised, pimps and brothel owners would be held responsible for the treatment of these sex workers. Mandatory h checks will also reduce the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. It will ensure better work conditions, better wages for them.
Legalisation will be able to provide a life for these women, a life of security and respect, which is what they deserve instead of being criminalised for the choices they make or, more often than not, are forced into.