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Prelims Capsule

Indian Society

Know about the plight of sex workers in India

Know about the plight of sex workers in India


  • GS  1 || Society || Women || Issues Concerning Women

Why in the news?

The plight of sex workers in India

Present Context:

  • Nagpur’s historic red-light district, Ganga Jamuna, is making headlines these days as law enforcement officials chose to close the 200-year-old red-light district in Maharashtra.
  • Nagpur Police closed the roads leading to ‘Ganga Jamuna,’ the city’s 200-year-old Red Light district, on August 15.
  • Thousands of sex workers came to the streets to protest the closure, even as police imposed Section 144 in the neighbourhood. Under the Prevention of Immoral Tracking Act, the cops prohibited prostitution in the area over a week later.
  • Sex workers in the area are appealing for the prohibition to be lifted, claiming that it impacts not only their livelihood but also the future of their children.

Historical aspects Sex Worker in India:

  • India is home to Asia’s largest red-light district, Mumbai’s infamous Kamathipura, which began as a vast brothel for British occupiers before shifting to a local clientele after India’s freedom.
  • Prostitution was prevalent throughout the Mughal Empire (1526-1857), and the terms tawaif and mujra became popular during this time. Prostitution had a significant nexus with performing arts throughout the Mughal era in the subcontinent (1526 to 1857).
  • The Mughals encouraged prostitution, elevating dancers and singers to higher degrees of prostitution. The harem of King Jahangir included 6,000 mistresses, which symbolised authority, wealth, and power. Prostitution thrived even during the British rule, with the famed kamathipura, a red light district in Bombay, created for the refreshment of British troops and eventually taken over by Indian sex workers.

Sex-worker Crisis in India

  • Financial condition: Sex workers were on the verge of disappearing, with the lockout resulting in a complete lack of income and a daily struggle for life. Multiple women live together in squalor in urban red-light districts. Tiny decaying rooms on winding streets, where social distance is impossible to follow. Their financial condition is exacerbated by the fact that sex workers frequently lack savings.
  • Homelessness: They are now at risk of being homeless since they are unable to pay their rent due to a lack of money. Sex workers have long catered to migratory workers and males who are separated from their families.
  • Struggling to survive: Given that foreign workers are also struggling to survive with little to no income and a long-term economic slowdown, sex workers now face months without work. People rarely acknowledge the existence and misery of sex workers while the homeless and beggars are housed in shelters..
  • Lack of access to banking services and government scheme: On March 26, the Centre announced a Rs 1.70 lakh crore grant under the PradhanMantriGaribKalyanYojana to assist the underprivileged in “fighting the battle against coronavirus.” For the next three months, all women with accounts under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) will get cash transfers of Rs 500. However, very few sex workers have Jan Dhan accounts, and the majority do not have any documents because the governments deny their existence.
  • The National Food Security Act of 2013 enshrines the Right to Food as a basic right (also known as the Right to Food Act). The act aims to deliver food grains at a reduced price to roughly two-thirds of India’s population. Sex workers, on the other hand, are not eligible for this statutory benefit.
  • Providing food, on the other hand, is the least of sex workers’ concerns: Several people are afflicted with diseases, particularly the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and tuberculosis.
  • As healthcare facilities around the country strive to deal with mounting COVID-19 cases, access to proper healthcare has become increasingly challenging. The Union administration has been oblivious to the presence of commercial sex workers and has taken no action to alleviate their plight through fines and compensation packages.

Causes of prostitution:

  • Neglect on the part of parents.
  • You’re in bad company.
  • Prostitutes from the family.
  • Social norms.
  • Incapacity to plan a wedding,
  • A lack of sex education, as well as the media.
  • Incest and rape in the past.
  • Desertion and early marriage.
  • Prostitution is tolerated due to a lack of leisure amenities, ignorance, and acceptance.
  • Poverty and economic misery are two economic factors.
  • Desire for physical pleasure, avarice, and dejection are all psychological reasons.

Health problems for the sex workers:

  • Cervical cancer
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • STD: Sexually transmitted disease
  • Psychological disorders

Sex worker and human trafficking:

This article focuses on human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation in prostitution, hence it’s important to define prostitution first. The term “prostitution” is generally understood to indicate engaging in sexual activity as a sex-worker in exchange for money:

  • Every year, the sex industry makes billions of dollars from millions of teenage girls and women.
  • According to the research, women and young girls are trafficked every year, both within and without national borders, and forced to join the prostitute trade, while some also join the profession for a variety of other reasons.
  • According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s 2019 report, the total number of cases recorded on human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation for prostitution is roughly 1287, which is approximately 74% less than the previous year’s total of 4980. With 474 incidents of human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution reported, Maharashtra leads the states, followed by Telangana (241) and Tamil Nadu (137).
  • Trafficking affects millions of women: Experts estimate that sex trafficking affects millions of women and children in India. Women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking by traffickers who make false promises of employment or arrange sham weddings within India or the Gulf states.
  • Women and children are increasingly subjected to sex trafficking in small motels, trucks, huts, and private residences, in addition to typical red light districts. Websites, mobile apps, and online money transfers are increasingly being used by traffickers to arrange commercial sex.
  • Children are still being trafficked for sex in religious pilgrimage centres and by foreign tourists in tourism destinations. Sex trafficking affects many women and girls in India, primarily from Nepal and Bangladesh, but also from Europe, Central Asia, Africa, and Asia, including Rohingya and other minority communities from Burma.
  • Major states: Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi, Gujarat, Hyderabad, and the India-Nepal border are popular destinations for both Indian and foreign female trafficking victims; Nepali women and girls are being targeted in Assam, Nagpur, and Pune. In large Indian cities, certain Nepali, Bangladeshi, and Afghan women and girls are exposed to both labour and sex trafficking.
  • Corruption in system: Some corrupt cops shield suspected traffickers and brothel owners from law enforcement, accept money from sex trafficking businesses and sexual services from victims, and inform on sex traffickers to thwart rescue efforts. In large Indian cities, certain Nepali, Bangladeshi, and Afghan women and girls are exposed to both labour and sex trafficking.

Sex worker and Violation of Fundamental Rights:

  • While prostitution as a profession is not deemed criminal, it is not a new age profession, and it is critical that those who work in it be recognised and permitted to live a dignified existence. Every individual has the right to live in dignity.
  • The Indian Constitution addresses the right to live in dignity in the following two articles:
    • Article 21 – Right to Life and Personal Liberty.
    • The right to life and personal liberty encompasses a wide range of issues, including the “right to live with dignity.” This article safeguards the rights of all sex workers..
  • In Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of West Bengal, the Supreme Court stated that “prostitutes have a right to live in dignity under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution because they are also human beings and their concerns must be handled.” “A woman is compelled to engage in prostitution not for pleasure, but because of abject poverty,” SC added.

Legalizing of sex work:

Legalizing prostitution can help improve the situation, and it’s worth remembering that prostitution isn’t just about female prostitutes; male prostitutes exist as well, though in smaller numbers and in less deplorable circumstances. However, as Article 14 of the Indian Constitution states, “The state shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.”

Benefits of legalizing sex work are:

  • Prostitution and the sex industry will be legalised, which will put an end to sex trafficking.
  • Legalizing prostitution will bring the sex industry under control.
  • Legalizing prostitution will reduce illicit, covert, and street prostitution.
  • If prostitution is legalised, women who engage in it will be protected because they will have rights.
  • Having regular medical checks would help to prevent STDs from spreading.
  • It will lower the amount of rapes and other forms of sexual violence.

Way Forward:

  • Achieving healthier communities and controlling COVID-19 requires a collective and inclusive response. Resources and support for sex workers need to be prioritised. Involvement of communities in social protection schemes, health services, and information will enable sex workers to protect their health during this pandemic as equal citizens, in line with principles of social justice.
  • Reforms of social and legal policies, including decriminalisation of sex work, can reduce discrimination and marginalisation of sex workers and enable provision of vital health and social services. Therefore, there is a critical need for governments and health and social care providers to work with affected communities and frontline service providers to co-produce effective interventions.


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.

Mains oriented question:

Prostitution is a severe social problem in India, and its remedy has proven challenging due to ongoing challenges. Illustrate. (200 words)