This page presents an overview of prostitution in India, including its
history, evolution, and current circumstances. It looks at the Devadasi system,
the colonial period, and the regulatory framework put in place during British
control. The difficulties that sex workers encounter, such as violations of
their rights and the need for social assistance and legal protection, are
The article examines key laws and significant judgements, focusing on the
recognition of prostitution as a profession and the protection of the rights of
sex workers. It finishes by arguing for a holistic approach that addresses the
underlying causes, prioritises the well-being of sex workers, and takes legal
frameworks and policies into account. Efforts to address the demand side,
promote gender equality, and expand economic prospects are also mentioned as
critical measures towards minimising the negative impacts of prostitution.
The word prostitution means when a person allows others to use their body for
monetary exchange. Prostitution is one of the oldest professions in the world;
it has existed since the mediaeval period. In the Rig Veda, it is clear that
there was a tradition to give the presents of slave girls to rishis by kings.
Ritualised prostitution was developed around the 6th century, when the practise
of dedicating girls to Hindu gods became prevalent. They were considered god's
female servants and were called 'devdasi', in which 'dev' means god and 'dasi'
means female servant.
According to ancient Indian practise, young girls who haven't attained puberty
are given the duty of marrying God. The marriage occurs before attaining the age
of puberty and requires the girl to become a prostitute for upper caste
community members; they are forbidden to enter into a real marriage.
Asia's largest red-light district, Mumbai's controversial Kamathipura, which
started out as a huge brothel for British occupiers before switching to a local
clientele after Indian independence, has since been established in India. There
are numerous prostitution rings operating illegally in Indian cities, including
Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, and Chennai. According to UNAIDS estimates
from 2016, there were 657,829 prostitutes in the nation. According to some
unofficial estimates, there are around 3�10 million prostitutes in India. One of
the greatest commercial sex industries in the world is thought to exist in
India. It has become a major international centre for sex tourism, drawing
visitors from developed nations.
Prostitution is not explicitly illegal in India, despite being deemed unethical
by the court. However, certain actions that facilitate prostitution are
considered unlawful, and the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act of 1956 (ITPA)
makes certain actions�such as running a brothel, living off the money earned
through prostitution, soliciting or luring someone into prostitution, and
trafficking in children and women for the purpose of prostitution�explicitly
Evolution Of Prostitution
In the past, the Devadasi system predominated, where Hindus contributed their
female children in exchange for the right to dance in temples and engage in acts
of worship. The practise of prostitution was neither criticised nor excluded
throughout the Mughal era. Courtesans or tawaifs lived in specific parts of
cities titled "kothas" or "bazaars." These women were masters of music, dancing,
poetry, conversation, and other fine arts. They hosted elite and powerful
clients, including merchants, aristocrats, and members of the royal court.
In the past, prostitutes were treated like executives and had royal patronage,
giving them a significant amount of power in governmental affairs. However, over
the course of centuries, changes in religion and politics have caused the value
of their labour to decline. The tawaifs, or prostitutes, lost their royal
support and clients after independence, and the tawaif system eventually faded
out as the princely kingdoms and the zamindari system were dissolved. According
to research, the tawaifs' descendants started pub dancing in big cities when the
royal clientele left because they were not treated with the same respect as they
had been prior to independence.
The establishment of brothels and the control of prostitution were aspects of
colonial policies in India under British rule. Systems to regulate and manage
prostitution were created by the British colonial authority, especially for the
benefit of British military personnel, government officials, and European
settlers. At this time, social dynamics, economic interests, and British
colonial objectives all came together to influence the development of brothels.
Prostitution was heavily regulated under the Contagious Diseases Acts (CDA),
which were put into place in several British territories, including India. To
prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among the European population,
especially the military, these laws were first enacted in the middle of the 19th
century. Instead of addressing the issues, the main emphasis was on safeguarding
the health of British men rather than addressing the welfare or rights of the
Growing movements and criticisms of the regulatory system emerged throughout
time. These criticisms focused on the exploitation of women, the violation of
human rights, and the maintenance of social inequality. The practise of
regulated prostitution was contested by social reform movements in the late 19th
and early 20th centuries, both within the colonial government and among the
indigenous Indian people.
In the end, the regulatory framework started to fall apart, and various colonies
abolished the Contagious Diseases Acts. It's crucial to remember that
prostitution persisted in numerous forms and that it changed over time as a
result of social, economic, and political changes.
Even now, there are still many issues that affect sex workers. Their fundamental
human rights are frequently infringed, and they are not treated like people.
Prostitution is viewed as an immoral profession and is despised. The irony is
that the majority of those who use these services are also the ones who most
frequently violate basic sex rights. This can be understood as evidence that sex
workers endure a great deal of violence and humiliation at work.
In numerous instances, sex workers who went to police stations to file
complaints did not receive justice or any consideration. They also deal with
stigmatisation, prejudice, violence, financial exploitation, sexual abuse, and
sex trafficking, among other issues.
Laws Related To Prostitution
Prostitution is not explicitly illegal in India, despite being viewed as
unethical by the court. However, certain actions that facilitate prostitution
are considered illegal, and the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act of 1956 (ITPA)
makes certain actions like running a brothel, living off of the money earned
through prostitution, soliciting or luring a person into prostitution, and
trafficking in children and women for the purpose of prostitution explicitly
The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act
According to the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act of 1956, prostitution is the
sexual exploitation or abuse of people for commercial objectives. It's also not
a crime under the IPC . Despite the fact that sex work is legal, maintaining
a brothel is not. It contradicts the entire premise of prostitution.
The Indian Penal Code (IPC), which predates the SITA, is sometimes used to
punish sex workers with broad offences like "public indecency" or being a
"public nuisance" without clarifying what these are. The original law was
revised in 1986 as the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, or ITPA.
In addition to the ITPA, the Indian Penal Code of 1860, the Indian Constitution
of 1950, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015, and
several state laws have been created to combat prostitution and trafficking.
Right To Profession
Article 19(1)(g) guarantees every person the basic right to engage in the trade,
profession, or occupation of his choice while also imposing constraints on the
choice of such trade, profession, or company. Nothing in this section grants the
right to engage in any profession, trade, or business that is prohibited by law.
Section 19(6) empowers Parliament to enact legislation banning certain types of
companies, trades, or professions for the good of society.
On the subject of prostitution, there are primarily two types of debates. The
first is whether prostitution is a business or a profession. Prostitution is a
type of occupation. It cannot be done by everyone and must be done by men or
women with specific skills. As a result, it might be called a career. When
performed in a brothel, prostitution can also be considered a business. When
prostitution is done by a ring or group of women, a substantial amount of money
is received. Owning and managing a brothel is prohibited in India, but
prostitution is legal.
When performed in a brothel, prostitution can also be considered a business.
When prostitution is done by a ring or group of women, a substantial amount of
money is received. Owning and managing a brothel is prohibited in India, but
prostitution is legal.
In an important decision, the Supreme Court directed the police not to interfere
with or punish consensual sex workers. It declared that prostitution is a
'profession' and that sex workers have the right to dignity and equal legal
The three-judge bench, led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao, issued six instructions
to protect the rights of sex workers. "Sex workers are entitled to equal legal
protection," the court stated. On the basis of age and consent, criminal law
must apply equally in all circumstances. When it is obvious that the sex worker
is an adult who is engaged with consent, the police must refrain from
interfering or initiating criminal action. It goes without saying that,
regardless of vocation, everyone in this country has the right to a dignified
existence under Article 21 of the Constitution."
The court stated that sex workers should not be detained, punished, harassed, or
victimised during brothel searches because voluntary sex work is not a crime and
only running a brothel is. The court also encouraged police personnel not to
discriminate against sex workers who file sexually motivated crime accusations.
Sexual assault victims who work in the sex business should be given access to
all available resources, including immediate medical and legal help.
Budhadev Karmaskar vs. West Bengal State
This is a landmark decision that cleared the path for the protection of sex
workers' rights. This story highlights the vulnerability of sex workers as well
as the social stigma they face. The judgement supported sex workers' right to
dignity under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Her example exemplifies the
plight of sex workers, who do it not because they enjoy it but because poverty
forces them to. Because of the social stigma linked to their work, individuals
do not have the right to live with dignity.
Kajal Mukesh Singh and Others vs. Maharashtra State
According to the Bombay High Court, the law does not criminalise sex workers but
rather attempts to protect them. Sexual exploitation for economic objectives,
such as pimping, recruitment, or seduction in public areas, is prohibited by
law. It is also prohibited to run a brothel or enable its premises to be used
for prostitution. People who trade their bodies for money are sufferers, not
perpetrators, according to the law. The Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act of
1956 criminalises the support networks that enable and facilitate prostitution
rather than the act of prostitution itself.
Prostitution is a complex and diverse issue in India that demands serious
analysis and a thorough strategy. Following an examination of the numerous views
and aspects surrounding the topic, it is obvious that no single conclusion can
be reached. Some crucial points, however, can be highlighted.
To begin, it is critical to acknowledge that prostitution occurs in India and is
an unavoidable reality. It is caused by a number of social, economic, and
cultural reasons, such as poverty, gender inequality, and a lack of chances. It
is absurd to wish for its abolition without addressing the fundamental reasons.
Second, the well-being and safety of sex workers must be prioritised. Many
people enter the profession because of circumstances beyond their control, and
they encounter a variety of hazards, including exploitation, violence, and
health problems. Efforts should be made to provide them with social support,
healthcare, legal protection, and opportunities for alternative income.
Third, legal frameworks and prostitution policies must be carefully considered.
Globally, various approaches exist, ranging from criminalization to legalisation
and regulation. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. It is critical
to achieve a balance that protects the rights and dignity of sex workers while
also addressing trafficking, exploitation, and organised criminal concerns.
Finally, it is critical to address the demand side of prostitution. Focusing
solely on the supply side, such as prosecuting sex workers, is ineffective.
Efforts should be made to educate and raise client understanding of the ethical
implications and consequences of their conduct. Furthermore, initiatives to
promote gender equality, empower women, and provide economic possibilities can
help lower prostitution demand.
To summarise, the issue of prostitution in India necessitates a comprehensive
and holistic strategy that considers the well-being and rights of sex workers,
underlying causes, and demand-side variables. It is possible to lessen the
damages connected with prostitution and strive for a more equal and just society
by addressing these factors and working towards social and economic empowerment.
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