I have idolized Sangitha since the time I joined Dream a Dream and there has been no looking back. Her passion and zeal for justice always struck me at the core. For her, it doesn’t matter if the cause is animals, humans, environment – all that matters is that you speak up. For me, that is a trait I envy and before I left work, I told her just that. She is my role model and our early morning coffees made her my guide. This article really moved me. You can read more at Life and Times in Bangalore
In response to a comment to the recent SC mention of beggars, prostitutes and home makers, here is a informed view point on prostitution being legalized in India. I am not tooting my own horn – I was part of the so-called educated view point sometime ago that legalizing prostitution would make things better for prostitutes. In the past year, I have been informed by various sources, have seen the movie by Mitr Sanketa, seen and read about the state of poor women. So my post comes from some information, some emotion and an understanding of the basic dignity of having control over your own body.
Fact no. 1: Prostitution is not illegal in India. According to Indian law, a prostitute has not committed a crime. She uses her own body, does not force others or use others’ resources. The criminals here are the people who profit from prostitution, namely the pimps, madams and other parts of the ‘system’ that make money off the prostitute’s actions. Legalizing prostitution really means enabling these criminals to walk free, free to push more trafficked women and children into prostitution. Would any society want that?
Fact no. 2: The percentage of people (that would be men and women, since prostitution does not discriminate on the basis of gender, it just discriminates!) that enter into prostitution out of free will are a most miniscule percentage possible. While data is tough to come by given the nature of the problem, less than 2% of the prostitutes polled say that they entered this state willingly. Even these people do not want their sisters, friends and children to enter this state. Taking the word of one or two of such people to represent an alternate view point is absurd. We Indians have a way of arguing the extreme without recognizing that the vast majority of prostitutes are currently between 10 – 100% unwilling in doing what they are doing.
Those who say they entered prostitution freely had to provide for families, had desperate economic needs AND feeling like this was the only option because they lacked other skills, felt helpless, felt like they could not earn otherwise. No one happily states that they would love to be a prostitute even if they are not paid. That they just love the ‘fun’ of working. Like a teacher might say (I know several such teachers!).
Once they get in (mean the prostitutes here, not the teachers!), they are lured by the disproportional amount of money they can make compared to the effort required in prostitution. They get addicted to making more for doing less, not to prostitution. Since they are almost all illiterate or not educated beyond a few grades in school, there is no awareness of the other costs of prostitution. No mention of the psychological effects of having no control on their body….for even those who voluntarily (this really means due to poverty) became prostitutes lose control of their own bodies, since the madams and pimps run them. This is organized crime.
Fact no. 3: Attempting to give a prostitute his/her dignity is not done by calling them ‘sex workers’. It is not work. It is exploitation. Rehabilitation and support give them dignity. It is not enough to have a bunch of people around them saying they respect them (though that is necessary and currently very scarce). The person involved needs to feel worthy. At the root of it all is a lack of self esteem (something that is developed in them by aware parenting that allows an individual to stand up and say, ‘nah, not this even if it is severe economic need’) that needs to be addressed.
Fact no. 4: There is a back slide during rehabilitation due to the lure of money. Prostitution is easy for someone who is used to it for years. They have seen how much money they can make in a short period of time. When you are poor, it is tough to say ‘no’ to having some money. Change is difficult. It is like adjusting to take a salary cut with more time off. The value of the time off is difficult to appreciate when sometimes the lack of money hits hard. For someone who has not thought of themselves as worthy of respect, the value of dignity, having control over one’s own body, etc. takes a long time to appreciate. And one has to stick it out. So the fact that prostitutes drop out of rehabilitation efforts does not mean that prostitution is desirable. I think of it like an addict lapsing before sticking it out long enough for health to become an effortless habit. And then watching it every day.
Fact no. 5: There are over 3 million trafficked people; men, women and children in India. Only 2000 get rescued every year. A majority of these people are in prostitution, forced into it. Even the worst ‘look the other way’ viewpoint can’t say that the 13 year old Nepali girl who has been sold into an AIDS rampant red light district in India ‘came eagerly’! There are 2.3 million prostitutes in India. Approximately. Kind of a large enough population to do something about? Even assuming that 50% of them are not ‘volunteers’ (can you see that I am trying hard to step into the other side’s shoes?), this population is large enough for laws to protect. We don’t need enabling.
Fact no. 6: The ‘it exists because there is a ‘need’ argument? Tough. Button up, people. If you have a need to kill indiscriminately, we should legalize murder? Since this is not a service (unless you call rape a service!), there is no space for the ‘demand-supply’ argument. Because that is all it is. Some intellectual farting by people who will not do a thing but want to feel good and sleep well at night. Denial rarely solves a problem. And this is denial running rampant.
Prostitution is oppression. It is taking advantage of a vulnerable person and making them do something you would not. It is control at its worst. It is power as much as sex that is in question here. For those who say that we have to make the conditions of the people already in this state of oppression, please do. How? Put those pimps and madams behind bars, give the people involved some options that are real for them (not call center training for an illiterate person!) and then allow those who really want to be prostitutes, in control of their own actions to do what they will.
My last argument – since when has legal anything done good in India? Road rules are to be followed. Stopping at red lights is legal. Because we can’t enforce it or change mindsets, we give up and say, ‘okay, there will be a red light but stopping or not is your choice?’ Even assuming that legalizing prostitution is the thing to do (I have made my opinion clear that it is not!), laws are as good as their enforcement. You can’t control anyone through laws. You can’t change mindsets through laws. What will legalizing this do that we can’t as civil society do now? Setting up day care for prostitutes’ children? There already. Health checks? Happening already. Medical treatment? Yep, happening. You name it and there is an NGO already doing it. Is the scale of work enough? For 2.3 million people, heck no. But then what is the difference in that from real life for us non-prostitutes? Roads being laid? Yes. Enough? Heck no! Will legalizing prostitution give a prostitute her dignity? Do I need to answer this?
We need to work on the biggies – poverty and crime. Development is the answer. Instead of sitting around and wasting time/resources on the legalizing prostitution debate, let us fund and set up more and effective social programs for rehabilitation. And stop spouting nonsense that prostitution deserves its place among the various world trades and services.
What can I do daily/weekly? I can volunteer/work in the NGO sector. Put my money where my mouth is. Put my time and effort where my money is. Not a development sector person? Can design websites? Can think technology? Set up IT strategy for an NGO that will not be able to pay for it. A dancer? Find an organization that uses arts in its programs and support them with your time. A home maker? Teach, make stuff, feed, use your organizational and multi tasking skills. Volunteer like you would work. With committment…not, ‘oh, my relative is visiting today, I can’t make it’ at the last moment. Schedule a relative’s visit around your volunteering. With deadlines – NGOs are organizations that are asked to be efficient and effective. It is just right to ask that of their volunteers, is it not?
When will I believe that prostitution is entered into by free will? When a wife or husband leaves home saying ‘See ya, Honey! Be right back after the next customer. Don’t forget to pay the maid and do make sure the kids are picked up from the school bus?’ Brandishing a business card that proudly says ‘Ms. Anita/ Mr. Anand, Prostitute’.