Women of the street

  • Sociologically defined prostitution is an occupation in which an individual sells sex
    in an emotionally indifferent manner.
    Society’s reaction to prostitution is instinctively not a reason or logically thought
    out response. Add to it, the stigma and Prejudice against seeing the work as
    nothing other than immoral has made prostitution a social evil. It is considered
    immoral because it talks about sex in general and outside of marriage, specifically
    and such an active brings shame to civilized society. It is a social evil because this
    patriarchal society demands that a man’s natural aggression and sexual drive
    needs an outlet and hence the women who willingly or otherwise becomes an
    outlet for the said “natural needs” of the very man, becomes an offender as she
    not only destroys families and lures men but also destroy the moral fabric of
    society . And this perspective is the blaring oxymoron and irony of the society. It is
    to be noted that the men who actively seeks out sex with prostitutes belongs to
    the very same society.
    So the question is whether prostitution should be treated as any other
    occupation, or the society’s perspective of considering it immoral stands correct ?

Different facets of prostitution
The negative side of this profession is that the sex workers who are mostly
women who work in red light areas or Lal bazars were either actively or passively
forced into it. This is done through child grooming or were either forced into the
world of prostitution by child traffickers or pimps who often turn out to be the
closed ones. Women are often lured under the guise of marriage, jobs, or fulfilling
their dreams by cunning pimps.

As a matter of fact the sex industry in India is approx. rupees 40000 crores per
year and a staggering 30% of workers are minors. The middleman that is the
pimps traffickers and brothel runners earn above rupees 11000 crores. Mumbai in
fact happens to be the largest red light area in

Apart from society’s negative perspective towards this profession there also lies
the fact that the clients who belong to the so called respectable society exploit
the red light workers and independent prostitutes. They inflict bodily injury and
due to lack of legislation no safety or health precaution is observed by brothel
owners which result in unwanted pregnancies and STIs.

The economic conditions of the prostitutes are ever degrading. For those who
work in brothels their finances are handled by the brothel owner. The sex workers
are given meager allowance from their own hard earned money , other times
clients don’t pay fairly. Only few prostitutes climb the economic ladder, enough
to set a narrative that prostitutes live a life of luxury. One such example was
Ganga Harijeevandas Kathiawadi from Gujarat, famously known as Gangubai.

Society tends to parade the flag of ‘morality’ as often as it can, especially when
voices can be suppressed easily. Societal pressure pushes prostitution in dark
shadows .The flag bearer of morality are often spawns of patriarchy, especially
men. The men who protest to save the morality of society at day are found in
rooms of prostitutes at night. And then there are group of people deprive the sex
workers of their rights, freedom and education to their children in name of the
same morality. A child of prostitute is treated like pest by school and “concerned
parents” want their children to be safe from such bad influences.

Many argue that sex work is disgusting degrading economic exploitation of
human rights, therefore, legislation would encourage exploitation. Well, the truth
remains that non-legislation isn’t improving the situation either. And anyways, the
point is to make the distinction between right to practice prostitution and rights
of a prostitute. Legally, this area is considered a grey area .
While its true that many women are forced into it but some do come willingly and
both accept their situation and fate.

The right to practice prostitution has it’s foundation in case of Shama Bai vs State
of UP 1958 (Smt Shama Bai and others v/s state of UP 1958 AIR 1959 ALL 57).
Shama Bai was a 24 year old women who stood before the courtroom in Lucknow
on May 1st 1958 in front of judge Jagdish Sahai. She left with her cousin and two
younger brother who were dependent on her earnings. She approached the court
and said that the application of SITA 1956 is ultra vires of constitution of India, as
it illegally prohibits her from carrying on her trade.
J. Sahai however said that the act does not prohibits the trade of prostitution,
however, it has indeed imposed restrictions on the same, and is reasonable too,
so it protects the victims of human trafficking. And hence the application of SITA,
1956 does not infringe Shama Bai’s right as prostitute, hence rejecting the
Due to lack of legislation, if a sex worker is exploited, she does not have the
liberty to take a stand on her behalf, after all society believes that “you cannot
rape the willing” or “she asked for it”. This attitude towards the prostitutes forces
them in dark shadows and restricts them for the sake of so called “morals” of the
society, but facts do not cease to exist because world turns a blind eye towards it.

Society’s role in shaping prostitution.
Society has a policy of double standards when it comes to morality of clients,
prostitutes and this occupation in general. Why is it that during police raids
prostitutes are thrown in jail but if she has a complaint against a client, she is
ignored, targeted and even faces further abuse, and this holier than thou attitude
doesn’t stop here.
This attitude of society criminalizes prostitution and turns it’s back towards their
problems and basic rights reeks of the idea that what cannot be seen is not
happening. This is a way of assurance to the dwellers of society that the moral
fabric is being upheld at cost of shame and abuse of prostitutes, who are made
into scapegoat for blames, because why else would a “respectable” man visit such
The irony is that these prostitutes are at mercy of clients who turn out to be a
wolf in sheep’s clothing.

How enforcing laws may help
There needs to be such legislation that it acknowledges prostitution and their
problems, their humanitarian rights and their rights as an individual of the society.
A law which reduce the bias towards them and give them much needed financial
security, and not just them but also to their families and children too should
benefit from it.
Children comes from prostitutes are another subject. Legally, they are legitimate
but to society they are a product of Shame and do not deserve to live with dignity.
Maybe with law that acknowledges the prostitute’s dignity, the society too will
accept them and the stigma shall vanish too. Instead of outlawing the practice,
the law should be made stringent for those who abuse it.

To round it up, prostitutes and prostitution needs to be acknowledged and also
treated like humans with emotions who have right to live with dignity. It should
be acknowledged because pretending otherwise will leads to further harm. It
should be accepted that prostitution has existed since ancient times which cannot
be squashed and suppressed today. With this admission should also come
acceptance and their constitutional, fundamental and all of their basic rights as
humans and not just for the name sake. The condition needs to be improve
regarding their medical health, their living and working situations, there
complaints of physical and sexual assault, should come to notice which will give
their children better and fair opportunities.

Written by Garima Mishra B.A.LL.B.5th sem