Prostitutes are entitled to live a Life of Dignity


No denying the fact that prostitution always remains as a running sore in the body of civilization and destroys all moral values. The causes and evil effects of prostitution manning the society are so notorious and frightful that none can gainsay it. This malignity is daily and hourly threatening the community at large slowly but steadily making its way onwards leaving a track marked with broken hopes. Therefore, the necessity for appropriate and drastic action to eradicate this evil has become apparent but its successful consummation ultimately rests with the public at large.

It is highly deplorable and heart-rending to note that many poverty stricken children and girls in the prime of youth are taken to ‘flesh market’ and forcibly pushed into the ‘flesh trade’ which is being carried on in utter violation of all cannons of morality, decency and dignity of humankind. There cannot be two opinions indeed there is none that this obnoxious and abominable crime committed with all kinds of unthinkable vulgarity should be eradicated at all levels by drastic steps.

The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956

The immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 was enacted to provide, in pursuance of the International Convention signed at New York on 9th May, 1950, for the prevention of immoral traffic. Government of India in the year 1950 ratified an International Convention for suppression of traffic in persons and of the exploitation of the prostitution of others. The principal object of the Act is to prevent commercialization of the vice and trafficking among women and girls. As Krishna Iyer J. has observed in Chita J. Vaswani v. State of W.B.[1] no nation, with all its boasts, and all its hopes, can ever morally be clean till all its women are really free.  Free to live without sale of their young flesh to lascivious wealth or commercializing their luscious figures. India, to redeem this ‘gender justice’ and to proscribe prostitution whereby rich men buy poor women through houses of vice, has salved its social conscience by enacting the Act.

The scope of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 is very vast. Section (3) of the Act provides for punishment for keeping a brothel or allowing a premises to be used as a brothel. “Brothel” is defined in Section 2(a) as including a house, room, or place or any portion of any house, room or place, which is used for the purpose of prostitution for the gain of another person or for the mutual gain of two or more prostitutes. “Prostitute” is defined in Section 2(e) as meaning a female who offers her body, for promiscuous sexual intercourse for hire whether in money or in kind. Section 2(f) defines “prostitution” means the sexual exploitation or abuse of persons for commercial purpose and the expression “prostitute” shall be construed accordingly.

Moreover, the amendment in the law in 1986 has amended the definition of “prostitution” (i.e. the act of a female offering her body for promiscuous sexual intercourse for hire whether in money or in kind, or whether offered immediately or otherwise) and replaced it by the following new definition “prostitution” means the sexual exploitation or abuse of persons (male or female) for commercial purposes, and the expression “prostitute” will be construed accordingly.

The only situations for which a prostitute can be punished are:

(1) Where prostitution is carried on in premises which are within a distance of 200 yards of any place of public religious worship, educational institution, hotel, hospital, nursing home or such other public place of any kind as may be notified in this behalf by the Commissioner of Police or District Magistrate.

(2) Where a prostitute makes positive attempts to seduce or solicit persons for purposes of prostitution.

Prostitutes are entitled to live a Life of Dignity

Women become prostitutes not because they enjoy prostitution but due to poverty. The level of poverty in this country is appalling. Almost 50% of our people are living below the poverty line in horrible conditions, e.g., without employment, proper food, housing, medical care, education, etc. In Rajasthan, people were eating Rotts made of grass. In Orissa people were eating mango kernels, and in Tamil Nadu women are selling one of their kidneys to feed their families. Starvation deaths have been reported in Rajasthan, Orissa, M. P., etc. and it is no wonder that to escape from this abject poverty, a large number of women are compelled to sell their bodies to earn some money to fill their stomachs. Ordinarily, no woman will surrender her body to a man voluntarily unless she respects and loves him. Prostitutes are normally not bad women and they are wrongly regarded as women of vice by society. In fact, in the novels and stories of the great Bengali writer Sharad Chandra Chattopadhyaya many prostitutes are shown to be women of high character, e.g., Rajya Laxmi in Sharad Chandra’s famous novel ‘Shri Kant,’ and Chandramukhi in ‘Devdas’. Similarly in the great novel “Crime and Punishment” by the famous Russian writer Dostoyevsky, we come across the character of Sofia Marmaledov who was compelled to become a prostitute due to poverty, although she was depicted as a young woman of high character who earns for her family members who would otherwise starve. In the famous poem ‘Chakle’ by the great Urdu writer Sahir Ludhiyanvi, the plight of prostitutes in India has been vividly depicted, and this poem has been sung (with some modifications) in the Hindi Film ‘Pyasa’. Hence, the approach of society towards the prostitutes must change, and sympathy must be shown towards them as it must be realized that they are not necessarily women of bad character but have been driven to the profession due to acute poverty in their family.

In Chinnamma Sivadas v. State (Delhi Administration)[2], the Supreme Court held that the State Government should evolve a scheme in which women rescued from brothels and deserted women lodged in protective homes must be able to live with human dignity and find gainful employment after discharge.

Prostitutes are also entitled to live a life of dignity which is part of Article 21[3] of the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. People including the police must have a sympathetic approach towards them and should not harass them, rather they should have sympathy towards them, and attempt should be made to rehabilitate them in society. The State Government must formulate a scheme for rehabilitation of prostitutes in society and this is only possible if these women are given technical skills so that they can earn their bread by these skills instead of doing so by selling their bodies for filling their stomachs.

End Notes

[1] 1976CriLJ1

[2] 1982 Cr App R 264

[3] Article 21 in The Constitution Of India 1949

Article 21. Protection of life and personal liberty – No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

About the Author

kushKush Kalra

Kush is a practicing lawyer at Delhi High Court. He graduated from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab, India in 2012 and has authored a book titled – Be Your Own Lawyer.

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