Legalization of Prostitution in India

A decision whether or not to legalize organized prostitution in India can be arrived at in one or a combination of the following four ways.

One- Majority Decision. Seek majority opinion of the people. Through referendum involving the entire population. Taking the opinion of the people’s representatives is an option. However, this issue not having been discussed at the time of elections, the opinion of the current representatives may not be fully representative of that of the people.

Two- Based on anticipated advantage. Analyze empirical data from societies across the world where prostitution is legalized to find out whether such a step provided benefit for society, government and to the prostitutes.

Three- Based on ethics. Answering the question- “Is this the correct move ?”
This question demands application of mind and serious thinking unlike in the case of parsing of data or punching of personal preference in voting machine.

Four- Based on the fundamental purpose of life. Does it help achieve it.
The fundamental purpose of life needs to be clear in this case. That is for the society to arrive at, collectively.

The first option is the most easy. The advantage is that it absolves everybody from responsibility for the decision, including the people themselves.

The second option needs to also analyze the applicability in India of systems prevalent in those societies from where the data is sourced, considering the differences between the two societies, particularly the size of the nation and demographics, in addition to diversity in culture and extant belief systems. Forceful implementation of policies that may be incompatible with societal characteristics, as sometimes done in communist and other such autocratic states, is neither endearing nor enduring.

The third option demands the society to be more responsible, more accountable towards all its constituents. It demands an outlook going beyond narrow identification with individual self and understanding the interrelationship between all constituents of the society including Nature in which it functions. It also calls for comprehending the effect of current decisons on the shaping of society and subsequent generations.

The fourth option requires the society to be evolved, to understand itself comprehensively, which would give it sense of direction regarding its purpose in relation to that of the entire creation. bharatiya samaj was knowledgeable in this aspect at one time.

Legalization means accepting prostitution as a legally supported profession. The following issues need to be considered while taking the decision.

Objectification

First is the question whether prostitution can be considered a profession at all, in the sense that a profession provides an avenue for livelihood while also developing the personality of the person, giving him/her a sense of responsibility, direction and control over life, self-esteem and dignity.

There is a viewpoint that prostitution is like any service industry where customers pay to get satisfaction.
That maybe so in few cases of call girls known as escorts.
However, a large number of prostitutes are brought into the field through abduction, coercion, trafficking and/or due to poverty and unemployment. While many adjust to that way of life under duress, many others may wish for a different way of life.
Majority of these prostitutes get their visitors from among daily wagers, labourers, drivers and other lowly paid professions. In may of the cases what these visitors seek is sexual release, at the end of a hard day wherein they worked like automations, rather than any demonstration of ‘professional’ skills by the prostitute.

Even in the case of more affluent customers, often the driving need is sexual satiation and what they seek is an object, one that titilates senses.

This ‘objectification’ is central to prostitution.
It dehumanises, and thus prevents prostitution from making the grade as a profession.

Involved Decision

The second point is a question- are the people who recommend legalization doing so from a detached standpoint, like they are in an insulated sterile environment from where they observe and decide upon the fate of the prostitutes and their visitors ?

Do those who advocate legalization include wives, who are not averse to having their husbands avail of the services of a ‘legalized’ prostitute when she is not able to perform due to pregnancy or illness or old age ?
Do the husbands among them approve if their wives enjoy the services of a legalized gigolo on occasions when he is too tired to perform ?
Are these people comfortable with one or both of their parents visiting ‘legal’ prostitutes ?
Will they allow their sons and daughters to avail of such ‘legalized’ services once in a while to satiate libido? What if their sons-in-law and daughters-in-law want to avail of such services ? What about their grandchildren ?
What if some of their close relation want to enter into the ‘legalized profession’ for lucrative reasons, will they be happy with it ? Is that the kind of society that they would like to live in ?

Theoretically some may answer affirmative to the above. But when reality strikes, it is likely to be quite unpalatable, even revolting, for most.

Humanity

The third point is about equating the prevalence of unlawful prostitution with bootlegging and gold smuggling that occured when liquor was prohibited and import of gold restricted in the past and the subsequent expoitation of the situation by organized gangs.

This equating is flawed because unlike liquor and gold, it is human beings that are involved in prostitution. Point being that, while liquor is distilled from materials and gold is dug from the ground, prostitutes are sourced from a broken family or by breaking a family.
While a prostitute may financially support some of her parents and siblings, she will be denied a family of her own because very few people are willing to have their spouses working as prostitutes.
Moreover, if the case is that a woman has to prostitute herself to support her family, it shows a failure on part of the society and the government for not providing avenue for employment. Legalizing prostitution does not provide escape route for society and government from that responsibility.

Self-Esteem

The fourth point is that the prostitute often has to perform acts that she is not comfortable with, for the sake of continued employment. So s/he conditions herself into acting in ways that violate her sense of self and erodes self-esteem on a regular basis. Approving prostitution means that a portion of society is condemned to live with deficient self-esteem perennially. This is not comparable to job-dissatisfaction experienced in other fields, it touches the core of the person.

Employment in certain jobs such as toilet cleaning, cannot be compared with prostitution because there are enough tools available that removes the need of personal contact.
Besides, the premise of the comparison itself is flawed because, in personal life every person cleans him/herself on daily basis to ensure hygiene, but does not clean another person unless that person is an invalid or a child. In which case again there are ways in which direct personal contact is avoided where necessary. Moreover, such acts are invariably reciprocated to the doer in times of need.

Equivalent to prostitution would be the daily cleaning by one person, of many others, who are quite capable of taking care of themselves, through direct personal contact often going beyond mere cleaning, without any reciprocation by those others.

The comparison is further flawed because sewage removal is an invaluable service that benefits the entire society whereas prostitution caters to indulge the personal whims of a selfish-minded few invariably at a cost to their own families and that of the prostitute.

Child-Prostitution

The fifth point is that, despite organized prostitution being illegal currently, brothels run, trafficking goes on, exploitation occurs and child-prostitution thrives.
Legalizing of prostitution will form more avenues for bringing in under-age teens into prostitution by way of forging age-proof certificates.

Setting Precedent

The sixth point is that inability to curb harmful behaviour is not acceptable justification to propose for legalization of the behaviour. When government or law enforcement agencies give such excuse, they declare their incompetence, which has potential to set detrimental precedent. It also reveals irresponsibility towards duty. Further, such attempt to legalize the illegal portent willingness to prostitute legal conscience.

On a similar note, the deterioration of human values, apart from the obvious adverse effect on health, associated with liquor consumption and use of tobacco is well known. Sustained use of both affects the human being, his family, the society as well as future generations.
However, because its effect is more subtle and over a longer period than drug addiction, the government that approves its sale escapes accountabilty. The ostensible reason for the approval given is the apparent inability of law enforcement agencies to curb sale of spurious liquor which leads to deaths of consumers. However actual reasons may also include the profit margins that liquor barons enjoy, which they may willingly share with interested helpful persons in power, apart from the accrual to treasury through taxes. These liquor barons may also arrange for certain deaths through spurious liquor to provide timely helpful reasons to initiate removal of prohibition.

Societal Responsibility

The excuse of incompetence in law enforcement throws up questions regarding other ills in society such as child labour, which is prevalent despite being illegal. According to statistics released by the government, available for the year 2001, there were some 1.26 crore child labourers in India in the age group 5-14 years. That number alone is more than the total strength of the entire armed forces troops of China, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka combined, including the reserve. It is more than the entire population of Israel and Switzerland combined. Other agencies puts the figure much higher. This figure however does not include the large number of children who are employed as domestic help in households, restaurants and tea shops- employments that were notified as child labour only in 2006, and those employed in begging in the streets.

A parallel exists between the difference between a child actor working on movies/advertisements with a child employed as domestic help in a household/ restauraunt/begging in streets, and the difference in employment of a call girl with that of a street prostitute.
While employment of children in movies and advertisements seems to have been silently approved by the society, much like in the case of high end escort services, legalizing of prostitution, like employment of children as domestic help in households, restaurants or begging in streets, is untenable.

Society has an obligation to provide children with education opportunities and avenues for developing their personality. Similarly, society has an obligation to provide prostitutes with employment opportunities that develop self-esteem, dignity and provide a family life.

Alternatives

There are a few other ways in which society and government can approach the issue of prostitution.

1. Generation of alternate employment opportunities for prostitutes. Society and government, both are responsible for this. Many NGOs are already working towards this goal.

2. Improving of working conditions of the daily wagers, labourers, who work much like automations throughout the day on uninspiring jobs, that drives them to seek temporary release in the evening in the sexual act or in liquor-generated stupor. This is also a major responsibility of both government and society. It can be partly met by distributing employment opportunities across the country equitably which will remove the necessity for migration to city and separation from families. This will entail the shifting of driving motivation of governments from capitalistic expansionism to long term benefit of society. Focussing on promoting agriculture and cottage industry, instead of being fixated on the lucrative IT/ manufacturing industry related SEZs, is another way that may help reduce farmer suicides as well as provide employment to labourers.

3. Inculcating values in society, in the younger generations, to see themselves not as evolving animals, but correctly as spiritual beings. Let them understand that their anscestors were the sages who created the vedas, who realized themselves as brahma, who considered vasudaiva kutumbakam and sought shanti in all the worlds; not monkeys.
Let them understand that their heritage is not of animal behaviour, but of spiritual realization. That may help a different perspective towards living.

Conclusion

Each individual and the society that s/he forms part of is a composite whole. Both affects the other. If some people are considered as objects for sexual satiation of some others, it fundamentally affects the character of the society and shapes subsequent generations. Societal approval for such behaviour have serious repercussions.

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Post Script

Netherlands legalized commercial organisation of voluntary adult prostitution on 01 October 2000, with the aim of freeing prostitution from criminal elements, tackle exploitation, trafficking and other undesirable forms of prostitution.

Recent developments after 8 years of the legalization: –

Half of Amsterdam’s prostitute windows must be closed to save Europe’s most tolerant city from criminal gangs and an excess of sleaze, the mayor has told The Times.
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article5400641.ece

Eindhoven’s designated sex work zone is due to close by 2011. Amsterdam and other Dutch cities are slowly shutting down their red light districts, but Eindhoven is unusual in pioneering material incentives to tempt women into thinking about an economic alternative to prostitution.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/whore-miles-plan-for-dutch-prostitutes-who-behave-952479.html

In Iceland this year(2009)-

A new law makes purchase of sex illegal in Iceland.
Before this change in legislation, selling and buying sexual services was legal in Iceland.
Iceland is the third country to outlaw the purchase of prostitution. Sweden was the first country to ban the buying of sex in 1999 and Norway followed suit earlier this year. In Finland, a ban on purchasing sexual services from victims of human trafficking was introduced in 2007.
Opinion polls have shown that up to 70% of the population supports banning the purchase of sexual services.

http://www.jafnretti.is/jafnretti/?D10cID=ReadNews&ID=523

Update: Smt Sunitha Krishnan, anti-trafficking crusader, gives a talk on TED. She has also blogged on the issue of legalising prostitution http://sunithakrishnan.blogspot.com/2009/12/should-prostitution-be-legalised-should.html

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