If two grown-up people go to a hotel, do whatever they have to do, seemingly with consent, the man pays the woman (or the other way round), they settle the hotel bill and go home, what is it to you or me, or to the police, or to the moral fibre of our society? What is it to you or me if the woman uses the money to put her younger brothers through college, or buy spectacles for her frail old mother, or she buys an iPhone 6S or goes snorkelling? Why should half the city’s police force spend sleepless nights posing as decoy customers, lurking near hotels, listening in to phone conversation when they should be rounding up rapists or tracking down terrorists? TV cameras ejaculate in ecstasy as the girl so caught, a hunted animal, is pushed into a remand home, the city pages of newspapers leave no sheet unturned, and oh, what of the moral fibre of our viewing, reading society, which absorbs all this sleaze without a crumple? The flashbulbs are of course always on the woman, her clients are merely dismissed as influential netas, top-ranking officials and big businessmen, while both selling and buying sex is a crime in our country.
‘Legalise prostitution’ may be too big a call to make, as it’s a complex debate. There are innocent girls being pushed into the trade every day by men who are devils in disguise. Filthy, sickly brothels and red-light areas thrive in every city run by crooked pimps. There are desperate girls standing by the highways suffering humiliations of all sorts, many times sheer violence, all their earnings grabbed by the mafia that runs the flesh trade (and going by news reports the fact that it is illegal doesn’t seem to have made any dent in the trade). Gloria Steinem told us at the Jaipur Literature Festival earlier in the year that prostitution is commercial rape. The term sex-worker is deplorable as no girl does it willingly, she is always exploited, she said.
But try as hard as you want not to be moralistic, what would your answer be to the question if your daughter told you she wants to be a sex worker, that it was like any other job, what would you reply? Think for a moment also for a girl who is a willing sex worker, who is as willing as any worker is about doing a job? If she does it without rustling the peace of the area, why should the cops be laying traps for her and why should newshounds swoop down on her on jib crane cameras? Isn’t there any way to let a woman ply her trade freely? And despite Steinem’s contention that it is never of free will, the alacrity with which our police is busting sex rackets run by women does show some women are freely choosing it as their profession. Isn’t that a better choice than unwilling, unknowing innocents falling into the clutches of the flesh trade mafia? If our police is freed from the perilous assignment of sending decoy customers to disreputable hotels hunting for ‘loose ladies’, perhaps they may get the time and the resources to go after the ringleaders of these trafficking rings.
Satish Padmanabhan is deputy editor, Outlook; E-mail your columnist: satish [AT] outlookindia [DOT] com