From time immemorial, prostitution has been a part of our society and has been regarded as the oldest profession in the world. Prostitution was a part of the common life in countries like Greece, India, Armenia and Syria. Most of them were related to the religious context as it was a general practice to dedicate the women to the services of Gods and Goddess. It was widely prevalent in India and records of the same dates back to Chanakya’s great book ‘Arthshastras’. In India, it was seen in the form of the practice called ‘Devadasi’ in which girl was married off to God in the early stages of life and she became a prostitute to the upper-caste community. Though this practice was abolished after Bombay Devadasi Protection Act, 1934 which was subsequently passed by the individual states like Madras, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka etc. Mughal period also witnessed the prostitution and had a strong nexus with performing arts which were given regal status. During British rule in India, parts of cities like Bombay and Kolkata became hotbeds of prostitution or comfort zones for the British troops. Under Portuguese control, Goa too became like Bombay and prostitutes were brought from Japan. All in all, prostitution has been continued from ancient and medieval period to the present India.
The main statute regarding prostitution or sex workers in India is the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956. This act defines prostitution as “the sexual exploitation or abuse of persons for commercial purposes or for consideration in money or in any kind.” This statute does not criminalise the prostitution or prostitutes per se, but the acts that facilitate prostitution like brothel keeping, living on the earning of prostitution, procuring or pimping, detaining in a premise where prostitution is carried on, trafficking are criminalised. Prostitution in the vicinity of the public place is also an offence. Under this Act, it is an offence for a prostitute to soliciting their services or seducing people and for a call girl to publish their phone numbers to the public. So, prostitution is legal if non-organised and illegal if organised, this is to discourage the business of prostitution and trafficking.
Other statutes that control prostitution MCOCA and IPC. The former is Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, 1999 to combat organised crime. It is a special law which was in 2002 extended to National Capital Territory of Delhi by Union Home Ministry. This act has been used to catch the people who are engaged in trafficking and flesh trade. The latter is Indian Penal Code and its various sections award punishment for the crimes related to the prostitution. IPC Sec. 372 IPC talks about selling minor for purposes of prostitution and Section 372 talks about buying minor for the purposes of prostitution. Both sections award punishment with imprisonment up to 10 years and fine. IPC sec. 377 talks about unnatural offences which include voluntary carnal intercourse and its punishment may be extended to imprisonment for life.
One group wants to decriminalise the prostitution and one group is against it but both have the objective of women’s welfare in mind. The First group talks about decriminalising the prostitution as sex industry will stop trafficking and stop the clandestine, illegal and street prostitution. Legalising prostitution will help women who live life on the edge to gain access to medical facilities and control the spread of HIV-AIDS. Even Supreme Court of India in 2009 ruled in favour of legalising prostitution. In the subsequent year, 2011 Supreme Court held that the “Right to Live with Dignity” is a Constitutional right and issued an order relating to “creating conditions conductive for sex workers to work with dignity.” Whereas the other group is against legalisation of prostitution. An Anti-trafficking group Apne Aap reveals that the traffickers pay a very low amount to the girls’ parents and take the young girls to throw them in the prostitution business. Many a time it happens that police and NGOs raids these premises and rescue girls from there. But it is of no use since their families sell them again to the same or another broker. It only increases the trafficking.
Percentage growth of this industry is increasing and the rate of crimes and violations are also increasing along with this. Many campaigns have been initiated to bring down such demands but no such concrete results have been seen yet.