Legalization of Prostitution in India: Need of the hour

India, a country where history is not just what we study in our schools but about the values the great kings, queens, scholars, warriors and the religious text taught us, brotherhood and humanity are not merely words written in the dictionary but in every Indian heart, but when it comes to prostitution, one of the oldest profession in India, in fact oldest profession of the world, the history is forgotten, humanity takes a back seat and brotherhood hardly spelled. What should we call this a cultural India or a Hippocratic India? The most interesting part of all this is that the person considering prostitution as a sin and a prostitute a black spot on the human race is the one buying sex.

In this paper we will be focusing mainly on the relation of prostitution and Indian history along with the psychology of the person buying or selling sex, the problems faced by the sex workers and how legalization of prostitution can help improve the scenario, and not forgetting that prostitution is not all about the female prostitutes but also the male counter-part, although less in number and not in a miserable condition as that of the former but as Article 14, of the Indian Constitution says, “The state shall not deny to any person equality before law or the equal protection of laws within the territory of India. ” , while making laws for female sex workers we cannot eliminate the male sex work.

Sex is a need like any other human need whether we accept it in that way or not.

History of Prostitution

Everything which exists today has a history of its own. Some practices started in history and ended in history and some are followed even today. The history can be broadly classified into three categories namely religious, ancient and literature.

The religious history is all about the supreme power which we worship in the name of god, their sayings, teachings, habits and character.

Indra, the god of rains and also the king in gods, had beautiful dancers called Apsaras. They were the biggest assets of Indra’s court; the Vedas do mention some of them, of which Urvasi and Menka are the most beautiful. Whenever his throne was in danger, he asked the Apsaras to seduce and distract his enemies with their beauty and dance. At times they lived together without any marriage ceremony. If we look closely, these Apsaras are the one which are called prostitutes in today’s world. The Apsaras were among the courtesans and highly respected and even today their names are taken with due respect. Not just the Vedas but also the Bible has the mention of prostitute, where Jesus Christ welcomes a woman in his kingdom knowing that she is a prostitute.

Nothing has changed but our attitude which has made the prostitutes suffers. If we worship God and follow their sayings, then why do we have such a different approach for prostitution and prostitute, from that of our Gods?

Prostitutes were even common in ancient times, from the Guptas till Aurangzeb. The practice was similar as that practiced by the Indra. The prostitutes were asked to sing and dance in the courtroom to entertain the courtesans and at times they held important positions as well. The king and other courtesans used to spend time with them to release their stress and at war time they went along with the troop to provide sexual services to the soldiers to boost them up and keep them motivated so that they give their best on the battle field.

The literature is not untouched from the practice, in earlier days we had codified the practice of prostitution. For instance the well-known work of Vatsyayan’s Kama sutra, all about human sexual behavior. A text defining the physical attraction, seduction, sex, sex positions and other aspects of sex in detail. We have Chanakya’s Arthashasatra, establishing a well-organized sector for buying and selling of sex, mentioning the minimum wages and the taxes to be paid by the prostitutes. Ensuring the protection of the sex workers and the dignity of women. And the mention of prostitutes and prostitution can also be found in Kalidas’s Abhigyan Shakuntalam and Meghadhoot. One will be amazed to know that the goddess, we worship today, got her face through the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma, when he portrayed a prostitute as goddess Saraswati and Lakshmi in one his paintings.

Navratre, a nine day festival devoted to Maa Durga, is one the most important festival in India. During the festival, the people worship the deity of Maa Durga, made of eighteen soils, taken from eighteen different places, one of which is from a prostitute’s door. The irony is that the soil from a prostitutes door step is called ‘punya mati’, meaning the pure soil, but they themselves are called sinister.

Even the Sculptures are not untouched from the existence of sex in the society. The historical caves of Ajanta Ellora and the temples of Khajuraho, have statutes showing various sex positions.

It as if our ancestors were more modern than us, earlier sex was a piece of art not like today, a taboo. The sex workers were dually respected and lived with dignity in the society not like today where they are treated no less than the garbage, humiliated, tortured and the worst part everyone turns a deaf ears towards their cries. Are we moving towards modernization or orthodization?

Psychology of Person Buying and Selling Sex

Before legalizing prostitution we need to understand why we need it, why not eradicate it altogether, why not criminalize the act if it is creating such a menace in the society. Arguing that it was practiced by our ancestors does not justify it to be legalized, as every practice cannot be legalized, for example the practice of ‘sati’, burning the widow alive on the pyre of her husband, abolished by Raja Ram Mohan Roy in 1829.

As everything cannot be treated equally and cannot be viewed from the same angle and perception as the other, the practice of buying and selling of sex needs a different perception because even if it is considered a taboo in the society the sex industry is flourishing, and the demands for buying sex are still high. It can be termed as a necessary evil.

The reason as to why a person buys sex, what pleasure does the person gets from sex, and the most important of all, why a person sells sex needs to be answered. In the above statement, the term person is deliberately used instead of men/women, as we cannot forget that it is not only a female who sells sex, we also have male prostitutes in the industry, and it isn’t that only men goes and buys sex, even women goes to the prostitute to buy sex.

The people who buy sex are usually the one who always cites and term it as an evil against morality which is weakening the roots of the society. If prostitution is against morality then what about the item numbers which are enjoyed by everyone publically without any shame or hesitation. If a child says something about sex, immediately he/she is made to shut the mouth, but if the same child sings or dances on an item number, the talents are appreciated.

The sex buyers can be categorized in following types:

  1. Men buying sex from women: The studies show that there is a vast difference between the desire of sex in men and women. The desire of sex is divided into four stages, a women can control her desire at any stage, whereas a men cannot control himself after the second stage. Thus, the income of men does not affect how frequently he visits the prostitute and how much does he spend. Although the desire vary from men to men.
    • 1 Types of male buyers
      • 1.1 Occasional buyer, as the name suggests they are not the daily customer, but do not hesitates when given an opportunity, like in a party or around a festive season.
      • 1.2 Adventurous buyers, they are regular buyers but visit different prostitutes in different markets, at different locations and of different nationalities.
      • 1.3 Regular buyers, they are the most loyal customers as they visit the same sex worker again and again over a large period of time.
      • 1.4 Sugar Daddies, they do not only buy sex but the sex worker also. They bear all their expenses so that the worker does not provide services to any other buyer.

The regular buyers keep the flesh trade alive but the regular visits bring a sense of belongingness towards the sex worker, they even fall in love with them and want marry them but due to the resistance from the society they are unable to do so. This act of them could bring the worker out from the sex industry.

  1. Men buying sex from men: The buyer or the seller cannot be termed as gay or bisexual but as heterosexual. This is something more about experiencing sex with the same sex.
  2. Women buying sex from men: The main reason behind women buying sex is the incapability of their husband in the act, the busy schedule of their partner or the long distance relationship. The women buying sex are usually from a well-family and could afford such services easily. The idea of exploitation of only women in the intercourse is totally vague as even the male prostitutes are exploited by the female buyers.
  3. Women buy sex from women: The woman buyer like the male buyer prefer same sex for the act, for experience and adventure.

After a hectic schedule of work, one need to relax and visiting another city with family and friends could be a good relaxing exercise. Some like to visit places for fun, adventure, love, Memories and some for sex. Places like Cuba, Venezuela, Caribbean, Goa, Costa Rica, Brazil, Spain, Thailand, Indonesia and Netherlands, Nevada are famous spots for sex tourism. The streets are filled with young girls and boys, ready to seduce and be taken by a potential buyer of their services. One should observe that if prostitution is not needed in the society then why do people visit different cities to have sex, and are ready to spend so much. This describes their desire to have sex, as practically every person may not have a partner to express his/her feelings and hear some soothing words for them.

“SiTiE: Generally who are your clients? SW: I get mostly married guys, these bastards like taking photos in the same cell they have a wallpaper of gods they believe in.

SiTiE: Don’t you get youngsters? SW: Yeah sometimes, they come in groups. Think themselves of as real man, but they are just kids, on in a sec and off in ten. (Laughing out loudly).

SiTiE: Are they aware of safe sex? SW: You kidding me? No 99% of them are not, they are poor illiterate bastards who can’t even spell sex.” 

Above is an excerpt from the interview of a sex worker (SW), taken by a member of SiTiE organization. The sex worker was abducted at the age of 12 years, on her way back from school, was raped in the car and forced into the vicious circle of prostitution. The excerpt is a clear example of how we treat sex and the sex workers, what kind of clients visit them, the pressure they go through, and we can say that the legalization could be a step forward to stop their sufferings.

Bisexual, homosexual and transgender are attracted towards the industry as they feel isolated from the society and end up sharing their bed with a sex worker to get a sense of belongingness and also the sexual need of them is not full filed in the society as they are unable to share their sexual status and going to a prostitute keeps their sexuality confidential. At times this is the only source of earning for them which eventually makes them a sex worker.

The factors which motivate a person to buy sex, could be to get an experience of how it feels like to have sex with a prostitute, the want of other kinds of sex, to overcome the emotional backdrops like loneliness, depression and the lack of belongingness, this is the most motivating factor in the case of present scenario, the prostitution is treated like any other services which you pay for, one of the many reasons could also be to get the feeling of having sex with another women.

Prostitution: A Necessary Evil

Commercial prostitution is exists in every corner of the world be it recognized by the local governments or not. Uprooting prostitution will lead to increase in the crime rate and will affect the people earning their livelihood through prostitution, because not only women but also men are in this industry, which is growing at a rapid rate in every country.

First we have to understand the need of prostitutes as to why in our society do we need the? Why is this industry growing at such a high rate? If they entertain us, then are they not given equal status in the society? Why are they alien to us? Why do they need to fight for even a simple thing like the human rights? Are they not humans?

Many are attracted towards the sex industry because here one can make large sum of money in less hours and efforts than in any other profession. Also it does not need any qualification or skill, it only requires a body, made of blood and flesh. No requirement of qualification also pushes the children of prostitutes into the industry. The point to be noted here is even before entering into the industry the child is termed as a prostitute, and no educational institute is ready to admit him/her only because his/her parents are in the flesh trade. Thus they are left with no other option than prostitution.

Some may say that people buy sex because it is being sold on the other hand some may even say that it is being sold because people buy sex. It is similar to the relation between demand and supply studied in economics, that demand and supply are interdependent, then why do always blame the sex workers only? Is it not a discriminatory approach towards the people who are already underprivileged?

The buyers are from the main stream society and they are the one putting the sex workers in the bad light. In the daylight, these are the one arguing for criminalization of prostitution and in the moon light they are arguing to get the services of the best sex worker in the area.

In the course of are research we came across an interview of a young boy, when asked about his first visit to a prostitute, he answered that it was his father who took him and his brother to a brothel to be sure that his children are not gay. This would look as what offence has one committed for being sure that his children are not gay, but the thing to be noticed  here is the visit to the brothel, this visit encouraged the boy for further involvement in the industry. The parties of rich businessmen often invite sex workers to entertain their guest through their dances and sexual services. Nowadays the bachelors’ parties are trending and involve both male and female sex workers.

The sexual services are not cheap, they may demand around Rs1000-2000, per hour and this may increase depending upon the age, attractiveness, experience of the sex worker and the location of the brothel. If you want them to be eradicate them from the society then why are you spending your hard earned money on them?

A very good example of our Hippocratic society is Sunny Leone. She was not only a prostitute but also a porn star in the sex industry, but now she became an actress and is practicing her acting skills. She is even getting offers of films from various directors and she is trying to get out of the sex industry, but the perception of the society is not changing towards her as they still call her a porn star. This shows that even if a person wants to come out of the  so called sex swamp rather than helping them to came out  people push back them in swamp again…

The entire above scenario proves that prostitution is a need of the society, which we should accept. This goes same as we need food; we do not make selling food illegal so if we need sex why not make selling sex legal.

Need to Legalize Prostitution

The laws are made for proper regulation of the human conduct. Like the traffic rules which ensure our safety on the roads, and as the society is evolving so are the laws and it is necessary to amend the laws to keep up with the change.

A comprehensive study of various reports of WHO, CSWB, CFLR, UNAIDS, GAATW and AWHRC reveals the facts that prostitutes in India are mostly minors and there is a rapid increase in the numbers in recent years, a large number of the sex workers suffer from HIV/AIDS, they do not have access to medical facilities, the sex industry exists in almost every city of the country, although there is a well-defined red light area in these cities but still the flesh trade is carried outside as well.

The only way to regulate it is to legalize the industry, and implementation of laws in an organized form. The present laws do not give any protection to the sex worker but to the pimps and the clients, and thus abolition of existing laws and implementation of new laws is required.

Below is an excerpt from an interview of Munni, a sex worker in a brothel of Sonagachi, India’s largest red-light area in Kolkata, by a member of UNODC.

“UNODC: We hear non-governmental organizations (NGOs) work on prevention of HIV and AIDS among sex workers in Sonagachi. Are you aware of this?

Munni: There are many NGOs here in Sonagachi………We were taught to insist on the clients to wear condoms…………They also set up a testing camp of HIV and AIDS. Even if we insist on condoms, customers pay an extra 25 percent as a bribe to the aunty(pimp).We are not allowed to go to the camps.

UNODC: Are some of the customers’ drug users?

Munni: Quite a few are drug users. They are usually addicted to nicotine and heroin……… They force you to try drugs with them as well………They usually agree to use condoms but cannot as they find it difficult because of the drugs.

UNODC: Don’t you want to leave Sonagachi someday and find a good job?

Munni: ‘Ma'(pimp) will never let me go and she is good to me and this is my home. She has promised to send me to Mumbai someday………..Even if I leave this place where will I go? The society will always label me as a prostitute. I am scared wherever I will be employed, the men will rape me……….. I cannot change that. I wanted to become a nurse and take care of people……… I will make sure my daughter is never born into a brothel, is educated and lives her dream.”

This interview does not only reflect the scene in Sonagachi but of every red light area, the camps are being organised and the awareness is being spread but does not bring any positive change in the lives of the sex workers. HIV/AIDS is also spread through the truck drivers which engage into the intercourse with the prostitutes during their journey. The reports show that many of them have not even heard of a disease called HIV/AIDS, they could be an essential source to spread such sexual disease as they have multiple sex partners and have admitted to have an unprotected sex, whenever their partner agreed.

India is being labelled to have highest number of HIV/AIDS positive patients outside Africa; the practice of prostitution is blamed to have been the origin of such diseases. To control the spread of HIV/AIDS in the red light areas, legalisation could be a great help. As if the practice is being legalised, the prostitutes would be asked for registration and regular health check-ups would be arranged. If a prostitute is found to be HIV positive, the registration would be cancelled, and the person would be rehabilitated under the government’s programmes, such as one run by an NGO named Rescue Foundation established in 2000 by late Mr. Balkrishna Acharya, which rescues the girls trafficked from various parts in to India and rehabilitated through various proactive homes.

In different parts of the world also, the practice is legalised, if we can borrow their laws for making of our constitution then we can surely look up to them when legalising prostitution.

Amsterdam, Netherlands is big hub for red light area and has one the largest red light area in the world, has state governed prostitution. The policies implemented their could help us a lot while making our laws as the advantages and disadvantages could be easily identified. The biggest advantage of legalisation of prostitution in Netherlands was proper regulation of the industry and control over the sexually transmitted diseases. There they register the prostitutes, put a age bar of minimum 18 years, conduct regular health check-ups and also keep a criminal record of them. Although they are also facing problems like increased trafficking as they provide working visas for prostitution as well, expansion of the industry because for poor and unqualified persons this is a good option to earn, the increase was reported to be around 25% after the practice was legalized.

The legalization of the sex industry will yield similar advantages and disadvantages in India as well. The advantages are not to be worried about and not also the disadvantages as a little improvement of the policy can help to overcome them. Such as to curb the increase in the trafficking, we should not provide working visas and also when registering a person, should enquire if he/she is wilfully entering the industry, if not then proper steps to be taken to make sure they are not forced in it.

The expansion can also be controlled by prohibiting the practice outside the red light area, by strictly prohibiting advertisement of brothel or a prostitute outside the red light area in any form is it print or electronic.

Other countries having legalised prostitution are Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

Prostitution is one of the oldest professions of our country, and as time passed, it has also undergone through lots of transformations. It is to hard believe that there are some places in India, where women are forced by their family to sell their body, even before they reach the age of puberty. Here people take prostitution as the main source of earning. Majority of women chose to be prostitute willingly or forced by someone, do it either because of economic backwardness or on the name of age old traditions.

There are mainly four places in India, where this profession is running even in the day light with no fear at all. In these places, males feel no shame in saying that their mother, sister and daughter are prostitutes. One of these is the village, Natpura in Uttar Pradesh. Here the tradition of prostitution is 400 years old .The majority of people are of Nat caste. Out of 5,000 people living in the village, more than 70% of women are prostitutes; they then migrate to cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and some to Dubai. Children who live here don’t even know their fathers name and live with their mothers only.

In Madhya Pradesh there is a tribe known as Bachara, a matriarchal community. Women of this community are said to be as descendants of royal courtesans. In these tribe women are forced by the males of the family to carry prostitution, it is compulsory that the eldest daughter of the family should be a prostitute. They even have a separate room where they do this job.

Wadia village in Gujarat is also known as “village of sex workers” and famous foe large scale prostitution which is going on here since last 80 yrs.

Saraniyas is the tribe inhabited here, in Saraniyas girls are groomed to be prostitutes and boys as pimps. These boys are trained to find clients and negotiate the rates for the prostitutes.

Recently sex workers from Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, donated Rs 1 lakh, for the relief work in rain-ravaged Chennai. Of the around 3,000 sex workers in the district in western Maharashtra, almost 2,000 contributed to the relief fund, in a function organised by NGO Snehalaya in Ahmednagar. If they can so much humanity and kindness for then we are we treating them as evils in the society.

Conclusion: Thus, in the light of the above points, we would like to sum up our issues with the following points. Criminalization of prostitution, including other things that surround sex work is not the real solution. Sex trade is here to stay, and by recognizing it as a legitimate form of work, all involved parties can receive guaranteed benefits. It would effectively lessen the burden on the government in terms of executing anti-prostitution laws and paying additional law enforcement. In addition, countries would increase their revenue through taxes, foreign exchange, and increased employment rate. Countries would also ensure safety environment for their people because sex workers will be required to undergo medical tests and receive adequate medical care. More importantly, legalization of prostitution would protect the rights of sex workers and give these people a chance to live a normal life they deserve. But of course, it would only be a lot better if the government will legalize prostitution because it will give the sex workers rights and protection on their job

Author: Anumeha Singhai & Jyoti Parmar, BBA LLB(Hons.) Part 1 Sem 1, school of law, Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal.

Disclaimer: This article has been published in “Legal Desire International Quarterly Journal (ISSN: 2347-3525), page no. 28. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without prior permission from Legal Desire. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Great article, but in India Prostitution can’t be stop, there are many laws to prevent such activity, but none of them follow, and run this flesh trade


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