SC called prostitution a profession; The history of the case, and what does it mean for sex workers, explained

On May 26, The Supreme Court of India made a landmark order stating that prostitution is a legal profession and sex workers must be treated with dignity. The court has recognized prostitution- as a profession and asked the cops not to take legal against those who live with it, Times of India reported.

The three-bench judge comprising Justices L Nageswara Rao, BR Gavai and AS Bopanna gave six directions for safeguarding sex workers’ rights, stating, Sex workers are entitled to equal protection of the law.  Under article 21 of the Constitution,  every individual in this country has the right to a dignified life, said the panel.  

History of the profession in India

India is widely regarded as having one of the world’s largest commercial sex industries. It has emerged as a global hub of sex tourism, attracting sex tourists from wealthy countries. The sex industry in India is a multi-billion dollar one, and one of the fastest-growing. In the 1800s, it is reported that the British military established and maintained brothels for its troops to use across India. As per reports, the British officials have seen the girls of the poor rural families as those who were then ones for make prostitution. They have been recruited and paid directly by the military, which also set their prices.

Prostitution in India is an age-old profession. There are in fact, mentions of sex workers in various Hindu mythological inferences referred as apsaras. During the pre-colonial period, there existed the devadasi system where it was a prevalent practice among Hindus to give away their female child as a sign of their devotion to god. Devdasi in a literal sense means devoted to the god, that is they were married to god and were not required to marry any mortal being. 

In India, poverty is the biggest cause of prostitution. In Indian patriarchal society, it is difficult for a woman to be financially independent specially, when she has been deprived of education, liberty and skills. Therefore, prostitution becomes the sole profession to earn money. These all have contributed to the prostitution acts in the country. 

However, here is what Indian courts said in favor of sex workers over the years. In 2011, the Supreme court of India ruled that sex workers have a right to dignity. This rule came after the Budhadev Karmaskar vs state of West Bengal row. In August 2019, the Kolkata High Court ruled that under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act of 1956, no sex worker who has been exploited for commercial sex can be found guilty unless she has been considered attempted in the crime. 

In 2020 during the Covid pandemic time, the Supreme Court directed all the Indian states to supply food to sex workers during the lockdown. The Supreme court had directed all the states to provide dry rations to sex workers who are identified by the National AIDS Control Organisation(NACO) without insisting on any proof of identity. It had also sought a status report on their compliance.

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However, the legal status of prostitution has always been under one cloud, and many have been demanding for years that it be legalized. Under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), prostitution in India is not illegal but there are some constraints on several activities under prostitution. 

The rule that the SC ordered recently, n light of their conditions, appears that the decision is a ray of hope for the sex workers in the country. With the order, the Supreme Court hopes to reduce the stigma that is attached to the profession of prostitution. Illegally arresting them, or torturing them might be washed off with this rule by the top court. The court has also instructed that any sex worker who is a victim of sexual assault will be given all of the same services as a survivor of sexual assault, including immediate medical attention. This will also make a place for equality in the country.