It's the only way to reduce the real illegalities that come with the profession like violent crimes against sex workers and child trafficking...
Prostitutes have always intrigued me. My first memory of an encounter with one is set in a small town in Assam where I grew up. I, aged 7or 8, was left in the car with an ayah while my mother was buying groceries in the market.
Two women walked by. I might have thought nothing more about them had it not been for my ayah who asked me not to look at them and turned my face away. Precisely because I was told not to look, I stared even harder at the two garishly made up women.
Later, my parents were not very forthcoming with answers to my questions about them; sparking off an even greater curiosity. In my early life, books and movies were my only reference points; and they created an intensely romanticised picture of this fallen woman. She in her illegal, immoral way symbolised my personal cause as a teenager â€” rebellion against the establishment. Ironically, in an attempt to protect me, my ayah sparked off a lifelong fascination with this dark face lurking in the shadows of society.
It is this fascination that as a naive college student made me volunteer for a WHO programme to distribute condoms in Mumbai's Kamathipura to curb AIDS. Walking around the maze of human depravation and degradation that makes up Mumbai's red light district, I had a crash course in reality. None of the women I encountered had an iota of the rebelliousness that her counterparts usually projected in popular media. These prostitutes were broken women, looking scared, caged in brothels. This was slavery at its crudest form flourishing in the middle of Mumbai city. And there are red light areas like this in every city, town and village in this country. Legalising prostitution in India would be a step closer to figuring out whether the actual number of these women is 3 million as the Ministry of Women & Child Welfare claims or 20 million as Human Rights Watch reports. It would be a step closer to bettering the conditions of these women. Prohibiting all activities related to prostitution, as in India's case, does not seem to be curbing the booming sex trade.
More recently, in course of research for a film, I contacted a pimp and interviewed close to 20 women working as call girls. They serviced men from my world. I had to pay to talk to them. They were all English-speaking, well-dressed and said they were between the ages of 18 and 30. Some of them looked much younger and some of them a lot older. The one thing common from their varied stories of decline, is the violence that they have to deal with on a daily basis. Some professions are more dangerous than others. "Men come to us to do things they can't do to their wives or girlfriends at home", was what one of them said, "That's part of the reason why we exist".
Prostitution has been in existence since organised society came into being, and frankly, these women provide services to all existing societies even today. Isn't it time we give these forsaken women the respect and dignity they deserve? Won't recognising prostitution as a profession reduce the real illegalities that come with it; like violent crimes against prostitutes, child trafficking and child prostitution?
(Kagti is a director & screenwriter)