“Why is it immoral to be paid for an act that is perfectly legal if done for free?”
-Gloria Rachel Allred
SEX-WORK which is often looked at as an immoral and unrespectable occupation has given shelter to around 20 million of the Indian population according to the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2018.
Then what made legalizing Sex-Work a debatable topic? Was it never a part of our culture? Are the people involved in the occupation are not humans? Don’t they have basic needs?
For better understanding, let’s start with our cultural history. In ancient times, the courtesans of the God of Rain and some other Gods were called Apsaras. Even today we call them with respect. After that, the practice of Devdasi(Courtesans) was prevalent in the southern part of India. Poor people use to unburden themselves by offering their young daughters to the Gods. After the ritual, the girls use to spend their whole life in the temples, satisfying the sexual needs of the priests, dancing, singing, and doing all kinds of services in the temples. At that time, they were entities of more respect in society.
After some time, due to the sexual needs of the men who belonged to higher social status, the culture of keeping mistresses and sex slaves became common. The rich started exploiting the poor taking advantage of their innocence and basic needs. Everyone had sexual needs but not all could afford a slave. So, sex was taken to markets at cheaper rates and termed as prostitutes. As women have always been treated as a commodity that can be used for anything.
In the colonial period, the British used to have sex workers for their soldiers. Laws were made but only to restrict the freedom of sex workers and to ensure the safety of their soldiers. The laws were around restricted movements, zoning, registration, compulsory medical checkups, and punishment for failing to cooperate with these measures.
In the post-colonial period, Article 23, Part I of the Indian constitution prohibited trafficking as well as forced labour, and hence laid the foundation for curbing forced variants of prostitution. Indian Penal Code in 1860, with sections 372 and 373 of the Code criminalized the selling and buying of minors for Prostitution. Thus, maintaining a brothel, living off the earnings of prostitution, procuring or detaining a woman for the sake of prostitution, soliciting or seducing for prostitution, and carrying on prostitution in the vicinity of public places, all became illegal.
Some people argue that Sex work is different from prostitution. They say that sex work is the work done willingly whereas forced sex is termed prostitution. Sometimes people forcefully enter the field through brokers or human trafficking but later when they find no other option, they start doing the work willingly. And this makes it harder to classify the case from the occupation under a particular law to take further actions.
Some say that sex work should not be legalized. It will lead to a disorder in society and will add up to the increasing number of sex trafficking. On the other hand, there are groups of people who claim that the legalization of sex work will help sex workers in self-representation, participation at all levels of the society including policy formation, and creation of better working conditions.
Nalini Jameela writes in her autobiography, “The Autobiography of a Sex Worker” that no women enter this occupation by choice. The majority are working as sex workers to support themselves and their children. She says that in many areas, girls are still deprived of education. Due to that, they don’t get a good job and end up choosing this profession. A construction worker takes the job to earn their livelihood and not because they enjoy doing the work. Similarly, a sex worker doesn’t choose this profession because he/she enjoys it.
In Navratri, the nine days festival in which everyone worships Goddess Durga, the statues are
made with the soils from eighteen different places. One of this soil is from the prostitutes’ doorstep and is referred to as punyamati, meaning pure soil. How ironical it is, right? Pure soil from a place that is not even considered pure.
Moreover, the wall painting found in the caves of Ajanta Ellora and the temples of Khajuraho has depicted many sex-related pictures, which means that our ancestors looked at sex as a form of art. And this helped them accept its beauty and health benefits. But today, the sex buyers appreciate the profession by night and call it illegal and immoral in the mornings. The people from high-class society are the ones who can afford to buy sex. They are the layers, policemen, doctors, engineers, and well-educated people from other white-color professions. Nalini Jameela argues that when two people are exchanging sex with money, how the buyers are respectable and the service provider is evil. If a teacher is providing knowledge in exchange for money because he needs a salary to survive, shouldn’t that act be treated as immoral?
When sex is integrated into our system, how denying it can be a solution? The sex workers are not always approached for sex. They also provide love, care, advice related to sexual health and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs), and sometimes just company to someone who is left out and feeling alone. Alcohol, cigarettes, etc are injurious to health but they are legal. But sex work which is not harming anyone is illegal. If one does not like it, he/she has the right to stay away from it but not accepting the sex workers puts them down in many ways. It affects them mentally and makes them vulnerable to exploitation.
The legislation of this profession will help society in many ways as mentioned below:
So, I strongly feel that Sex work should be legalized in India for a better future for both the sex worker and the society at large.
Author: Deeksha Verma (linkedin.com/in/deeksha-verma-93ab51219)
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