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Sex and the City: Are raids the answer?

A news story by Chokkapan S on Express Buzz, 23 May 2011.

BANGALORE: Raids on prostitution rackets that are being run in the name of massage parlours and otherwise have time and again been in the news. So, the latest ones in the string of inspections and subsequent arrests in Bangalore didn’t really come as a surprise.

What really is surprising is the fact that despite the repeated incidences, not much thought is being spared on the measures to curb the menace. So, what should ideally be done to tackle the issue? 

Decriminalising sex work is an important step in that direction, asserted Executive Director of Sangama, a sexual minorities’ rights group, Elavarthi Manohar. “Once you make it illegal, it goes underground and the laws governing this are also ambiguous. If one runs prostitution services at home and live on that income, it’s not considered a crime. At the same time, if there is an agent or if one rents out a place for sexual activities, then it’s a crime. The laws we have, actually blur the line between voluntary sex work and trafficking,” he contended.

Moral grounds shaky

When it comes to prostitution rackets, how many look beyond the morality part of it and the number of women involved, queried Shakun from Vimochana, a women’s rights organisation. 

“Every time an incident is being reported, nobody thinks about what made these women take to prostitution and what would happen to them. Are they the real criminals?” she asked, stressing on the need for a change in mindset among people.

“It should be beyond moral grounds. It has to stand the test of public opinion and consensus, as it’s not only about a handful of sinful individuals, but also about economical status of those involved, choices one makes at a particular point in life, globalisation and the times that we live in,” explained Shakun.

Most of these parlours and rackets ran in collusion with the local police, she claimed, and that it was not easy to figure out which ones actually indulge in these activities, especially when there were so many of private parlours operating.

Argues Shakun, “Suddenly, they wake up and say Bangalore is being immoral. If they have to curb it, let them do so by taking by its horns and not by targeting a few people.”

According to her, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises sexual activity against the order of nature itself was rubbish, “If it’s consensual, there is nothing wrong in it.”

Police in focus

Sex Workers’ Union Secretary Tejaswini concurred with Shakun in her contention that police are to be blamed for their approach.

“When police don’t have money, they raid these places. Recently, they demanded Rs 50,000 from me and didn’t spare me until I shelled out Rs 20,000. They also blackmail that they will bring the media and expose us. They have no concern about how and why women get into sex work and that most of us take it up without external compulsion or force. Ideally, the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act has to be amended, keeping in mind the factors involved and not to let anybody take advantage of it,” she said.

They stand united in their view that prostitution in the country should be decriminalised.

“Once it’s done, they can initiate a public debate on regulations and then, decide on future course of action. If you have a discussion now, it doesn’t make any sense,” said Manohar, the executive director of the Sangama.