• Pranav Jha

From Kotha to Company- The Case for Legalization of Prostitution in India

Every country has made the laws to regulate prostitution so that it might remain within its’ legal limits and without unduly violating upon the institutions of marriage and family.” Law Commission Report of India


The society has come a long way, made progress in leaps and bounds. Many archaic customs have been scrapped which were considered unfit to be carried out in today’s world whereas the society adopted new practices which they considered to be progressive. But has this benefitted everyone in the society? If we put up this question we know that we would not get a positive reply. Many sections of society have not been able to live dignified lives. They continue to lead a shady existence. One such section is that of prostitutes. The fact lies herein is where prostitution is a reality, it cannot be dispensed with and on the other hand, there is a perception that prostitutes should not be subjected to public gaze. In India, prostitution remains a gender-specific problem, an overwhelming majority of victims are women whereas the majority of perpetrators are men. One of the largest unregulated business being carried out, wherein women prostitutes are subjected to violence, sexual harassment, and intense humiliation. This makes children and women susceptible, where they can be objectified where and used as a means for financial transactions for sex, bondage, and slavery.

If we look at the history of prostitution, we can draw certain parallels in Indian mythology and history as well. The Vedic texts highlight the presence of Apsaras in Indra’s courts whose role was to protect Indra’s throne if in danger by seducing or distracting his enemies. However, they were venerated in the Vedic texts which is a total antithesis to their present treatment by the society. There exists evidence of the existence of prostitutes in the Gupta period. However, a closer analysis of this period shows that prostitutes were not given a respectable position in society. Sometimes prostitutes were those who were captured in wars. The literature of that period did not remain untouched from that facet. The well-known work of Vatsyayan i.e Kama Sutra had well codified the practices defining in detail about sex, sexual positions, physical attraction, and seduction as well. Many other texts like Abhigyan Shakuntlam mentions of prostitution. We can also find inscriptions like those at Khajuraho temples covered sexual themes. In South India, devadasis were those who dedicated their lives to deities, however later with eroding of the temple culture they lost out their livelihoods and were forced to take up prostitution as their profession. Similarly in Mughal culture, tawaif was a courtesan who catered to the nobility and they professionally entertained their guests in mehfils but later they fell out of grace and were relegated to the position of prostitutes. Taking into account the historical background we can say that sex trade is here to stay and it cannot be dispensed away from society, reasoning that it does not fall within the societal norms.

There exist laws regulating prostitution in India which say that prostitutes are allowed to ply their trade in private but they cannot carry out their trade in public. [The Immoral Traffic(Suppression) Act] However it might not be enough to ensure that prostitution is regulated. In a sector that falls under the grey area of Indian law, there is a lack of statistical evidence of prostitution. The data which is available courtesy of NGOs is limited and does not present the actual reality. Legalizing would ensure that those in this profession are enumerated which can further help the authorities to track the numbers of minors involved in the trade. This will ensure the removal of minors and also ensure their rights are not violated. Another area of concern in prostitution is that most prostitutes compromise on their sexual health and they are forced to work in unhygienic conditions. Bringing this under the ambit of law would ensure they have access to a better working condition like any other worker could have a claim to. This would also control the transmission of STDs and help in spreading awareness about the use of contraceptives. Research shows that there is a higher risk of transmission of STDs in illegal brothels rather than the legal ones. Legalization would ensure brothels have safe conditions and are well equipped with safe sex measures like contraceptives ensuring the safety of both the parties. Legalization would also ensure there are fewer chances of forced prostitution as everyone has their right to choose a profession of their choice. Any such forcible attempt to indulge anyone in body trade would be a criminal offense and would act as a deterrence for human trafficking as well. The current state of the sex trade makes it impossible for the authorities to detect cases of forced prostitution. Proper regulation would ensure that there is a reduction in human trafficking incidents. Legalization of a profession means that the employees have their share of uncompromised rights in the workplace and any behavior which might cause harm to the dignity or the physical safety of the employees must be dealt in the strictest possible manner. They will have the right to put forward their demands by forming unions. Also, it would ensure like any other profession, the prostitutes have the right to live their lives with utmost dignity which again the current state of trade does not show. Undoubtedly, the legalization would be crucial in at least waning the impact of stigmatization of the lives of sex workers if not entirely but still to some extent. According to reports, prostitution in India is an $8.4 billion industry which means legalization would ensure the trade is being taxed which will be an income source of government and taxation will ensure the trade is properly facilitated. We need to recognize the fact that every person has the right to use his/her body according to their will. Anyone who finds anything wrong with prostitution has the entire freedom to stay away from it. There exists a notion that organ trade is akin to prostitution which means the legalization of prostitution can further lead to a legal framework regulation organ trade which will be crucial as well. This draws attention to the fact many people are in urgent need of organ transplants, so a framework will help the cause.

So we can conclude that if we legalize prostitution it can lead to social and economic upliftment of prostitutes in society.

by Pranav Jha