Prostitution is the practice or business where people takes part in sexual activity in exchange for money and a person who is engaged in this field is referred as a prostitute. Prostitution happens in an assortment of structures, and its lawful status changes from nation to nation and also from locale to area within a nation, extending from being an upheld or unenforced wrongdoing, to unregulated, to a directed profession.

It is the oldest profession in the world and yet is still not considered a true profession. Sex workers all over the world face a continuous risk of abuse. Despite of the fact human rights violations are common throughout India; they are predominantly prevalent in the lives of the people involved in prostitution and sex work. Discrimination against sex workers and prostitutes in India is considerably an issue as the discrimination faced by other ostracized groups involving lines of class, caste, creed, race or religion. Sex workers  and prostitutes all are human beings alike everyone and are eligible to human rights under numerous of internationally covenants and declarations made for equal treatment of all people, regardless of profession.In this article we cover the topics including  condition of sex workers and prostitutes  and their rights in India .


Prostitution in India is not a new age profession but as some people call it, is one of the oldest professions in the world. Prostitution or sex work as  an activity has not started in this era or the previous era, its traces have been found in the mythology also. The Indian mythological characters such as Menaka, Rambha, Urvashi, and Thilothamma were described as utmost charm and feminine beauty were considered to be acting as prostitutes.

It is also found that prostitutes were found during the period of Pandavas and Kauravas. In the famous Arthasathra written by Kautilya states rules and regulation of how a prostitute should be and how their lives should be. There are even traces of having a code of conduct for people who seek favours from prostitutes. In his master piece ‘Arthashastra’ written around the 4th and 3rd century before Christ. Chanakya’s writes “Providing sexual entertainment to the public using prostitutes (Ganika) was an activity not only strictly controlled by the State but also one which was, for the most part, carried on in state-owned establishments. Women who lived by their beauty (rupajivas) could, however, entertain men as independent practitioners; these could have been allowed to practice in smaller places which could not support a full-fledged state establishment. A third type of women of pleasure, mentioned in a few places, is pumsachali, perhaps meaning concubines.”

In ancient India, there was a practice of having Nagarvadhus, “brides of the town” (grooms). Famous examples include Amrapali, state courtesan and Buddhist disciple, described in Vaishali Ki Nagarvadhu by Acharya Chatursen and Vasantasena, a character in the classic Sanskrit story of Mricchakatika, written in the 2nd century BC by Sudraka.

Then there was the emergence of religious prostitution in India and Mahakala of Ujjain became the temple due to which holy prostitution became very common in the country. The girls were called Devadasi in South India and Mukhies in North India. The name Devadasi evolved and it became an institution stating it as Devadasi system. Then there was the emergence of religious prostitution in India and Mahakala of Ujjain became the temple due to which holy prostitution became very common in the country. The girls were called Devadasi in South India and Mukhies in North India. The name Devadasi evolved and it became an institution stating it as Devadasi system.

Devadasi is a system still exists and the notable point is that it is stated to be flourishable. The word devadasi means ‘ gods’ female servants’. Girls in the ancient times were married to the local deity and it means that she has been dedicated to the service of God. Along with their religious service, they learnt classical dance and music and du to which they were given the honour and high place in the society.

Those days dance and music were one of the requisite at the time of offering prayers which were done by these classes of girls. Later they started marrying patrons who were usually kings. The kings would take care of them and the girls would provide them with sexual favours. Soon during the British period, the kings lost their powers and these people were left. With no other option, they started doing what they were doing with the kings with others and made their livelihood. This gradually developed and became a big network where children of these devadasis were also sent to prostitution making it an activity for generation of girls from a particular family or community and they were called Prostitutes. Commonly, all girls involved in these types of activities are called prostitutes. But they have different names upon which they are represented. Some of them are:

NamesBasic character based upon their name
TawaifAn elegant and cultured prostitutes who is sing and Dance
Nochiyoung female trainee under a Tawaif
Kanjarilow-class uncultured Tawaif
Kasbia female belonging to family which practices hereditary sex trade for several generations
Nautch Girlassorted dance performer during colonial India for all classes of people
Randia first-generation prostitute

The system of Devadasi has been banned during the late 1980s. The places where prostitution takes place are called red light areas. Even now these areas are present in many states and districts in India and lakhs of women are present there as sex workers.


There exist numerous reasons which compels a woman  or a man to take up prostitution out of which poverty and unemployment are two major influential  factors that causes them to engage in commercial sex. It has been seen that women of the remote areas fall prey to unscrupulous intermediaries who gives them assurance of decent job opportunities and then sells them as prostitutes. The most fundamental reason which drives the needy and helpless women towards prostitution is poverty. In case of males also, unemployment  is one of the major factor that drives them to take prostitution as their profession . It is accepted that among all the components answerable for prostitution, poverty is supposed to be the significant explanation that brings individuals into prostitution.

Earlier only females were seen as prostitutes and males were their clients but now in the 21st century male, female and transgender, all are working in this profession. According to the BBC report, the males as prostitutes in India are rising at a great pace. It also states that when there are no female clients they sell sex to the male clients.  Male prostitutes are called gigolo.

The increasing rate of poverty has driven numerous individuals especially the young people into the urban territories where they consider prostitution to be a brisk method of addressing their necessities and those of their families. Taking a gander at the idea of prostitution basically, one will comprehend that prostitution was not as inescapable in pre-modern times as it is today. The procedure of urbanization has prompted a significant move in the structure of our reality. Urbanization has prompted the development of free enterprise which has offered an ascend to the polarization of classes, aggravating the frequency of destitution, joblessness, crime and estrangement. This situation has prompted a more noteworthy pervasiveness in prostitution as a way people particularly females attempt to adapt with the grim economic realities. Also some women are led into sex-work due to unemployment. The lack of job opportunities had compelled women to desperately resort to illicit deals as a way of generating income.

Around 6 percent of the women entered prostitution after the occurrence of rape. And many a times the sexual assault survivors are victimized by the shame and stigma imposed on them by the society who blames these women for being raped. And in certain cases not only the society but their very own family members have denied to accept them. Aside from the deferral or the denial of justice, the casualties have to confront similar situations from time to time. And after the passage of a certain tenure when they find no roof for shelter in our society and when there exists no ray of hope for them, they discover their routes into the darkness of prostitution. Around 8 percent of the young ladies came to prostitution following the episodes of incest. The most well-known incest is among father and little girl, trailed by uncle-niece. And when these youthful casualty of incest being sexually exploited at their very home, do not anticipate safety in anyplace in the general public, gradually winds up in prostitution. Other than the above mentioned factors there are several other reasons that drives  a  woman  or a man  to become a prostitute.


In the present state of affairs the laws that regulate prostitution in India is Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, 1956 (this was before amendment known as Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Girl Act, 1956). It is the main statute dealing with prostitutes in India. One of the major protection that it gives to prostitute workers is firstly; it does not criminalise prostitution per se, and secondly, it punishes the acts of third parties such as middle men, brothel keepers, pimps, etc. who either facilitate this entire act or procure and live on the earnings of the prostitute workers. Since involvement in this sex trade makes the sex workers highly vulnerable to exploitation, hence the latter category of protection is held in a very high regard by the lawmakers. In furtherance to same-sex workers cannot solicit in public spheres but can practice their trade privately. In private spaces neither the workers nor the clients are held criminally liable or prosecuted.

In spite of enactment of the above-mentioned legislations, there are not enough steps taken by the authorities in order to regulate the said profession. The Indian law proved to be unsuccessful in protecting the rights and safety of people in involved in prostitution and sex work . In spite of enactment of the above-mentioned legislations, there are not enough steps taken by the authorities in order to regulate the said profession. Firstly, although third party involvement is prohibited but a major problem arises when even organised prostitution is not allowed. Secondly, since these sex workers do not come under the ambit of labour laws, therefore they are not provided with adequate protection under the said laws. Thirdly, most of the girls brought under this profession are by force or through trafficking. There is no straightjacket mechanism through which if it is found that the element of free consent lacks then such persons who have caused this coercion can be sent to jail. All these factors lead to denial of basic human right as enshrined in the Constitution and various other Central Government Acts. One of the major reasons behind the emergence of these problems is that prostitution in India is not legal.

Sex workers are more of abused and less respected. Since the law does not recognise prostitution as a profession, therefore it is not possible to take such unfavourable clients to court. In the current system, prostitutes are not considered as bearers of rights. They are highly pimped and often raped. Most of the girls involved in this profession are forced into it. Such innocent and unsuspected women generally are forced into this sex trade before attaining the age of eighteen years. It is estimated that every hour, with four women and girls entering into prostitution in India, three of them do so against their will. After being sold, they get trapped into shady brothels, raped and forced to sleep or have unprotected sex with psychopaths who burn and bruise them. Anyone who tries to escape these prisons is brought back by use of force and tortured even more so as to set a deterrent example for other workers.

Till the time they continue to serve in the brothels they are denied of all basic rights, for example, they neither do they have ration cards nor do they have a right to vote. They are forced to live in poverty and miserable living conditions. Lack of regulation and periodical medical tests causes the rampant spread of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV-AIDS. These brothel turned dungeons not only infects them with STDs but also other diseases such as cervical cancer or traumatic brain injury or psychological disorders etc. which do not find their cure for a very long period of time. After they grow old, they are thrown on the streets accompanied with no means to earn a shelter and bread and butter for rest of their lives. Being suppressed by societal norms and notions of morality, their voices remain unheard. This problem gets aggravated to a completely different level when these prostitutes are not even aware of the rights that are available to them.

In the recent times there has been an emerging trend of trafficking of child prostitutes in this profession. Such girls are not kept at one place for a long period of time. Instead they are shifted occasionally so as to avoid familiarity with customers and also to avoid police detention. At various instances, the money earned by the child workers is taken away by the middlemen leaving the labour of such child workers as unpaid.

The Indian laws have miserably failed to protect the prostitute workers and safeguard their rights. The Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act (ITPA) 1986 although aims at removing the middlemen from this profession but its practical implementation has resulted in depriving the sex workers of their means of earning a livelihood. ITPA often goes against its stated purpose and instead of protecting sex workers it goes against them. In the name of “public interest,” prostitutes are evicted from their place of work or residence. The term public solicitation has been interpreted vaguely and as a result police officials have been known to accuse workers of solicitation and then demand bribes or free sex.


Since prostitution is not recognised as a morally acceptable profession in India, therefore, a lot of stigmatization is experienced by those involved in the sex trade. These stigmas lead to marginalization and ultimately prevent the prostitutes from proper healthcare, education and, most importantly, the right to practice the business of making money from sex. Since police is also one among the perpetrators of this increasing crime against sex workers, so there is a minimal degree of safety and security available to them. Society considers prostitutes as involved in the morally corrupt profession and hence assumes that since they are guilty, so they deserve the violence committed on them.

These stigmas are not limited to the prostitutes but get carried down to their children as well, irrespective of the latter’s profession and lifestyles. There are several reports made by the children of prostitutes on account of persistent discrimination, ostracization, and isolation faced by them on account of their mother’s profession. They are embarrassed because of their mother’s lifestyles. All these factors have a direct and significant impact on their lives. Reports show their drop-out ratio has been considerably high. Further serious healthcare issues are shared by the sex workers with their blood line. Sexually transmitted diseases are often transmitted to the young ones of such prostitutes. Fear of ill-treatment by medical officers and establishments, illiteracy and ignorance, is a restraining force that prevents or makes it difficult for women from availing proper healthcare facilities, thus making it unlikely for them and their children to seek for preventive or curative care, resulting in lowering levels of health.


Since the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act (ITPA) of 1986 has somewhere failed to achieve its objectives or aims that it had envisaged and due to increasing pressure over legalising prostitution several programs have been undertaken by the central government to tackle this issue. Among all initiatives, one of the major contributions made is by the Association for Moral and Social Hygiene. It works for rehabilitation and liberating prostitutes from the sex trade, controlling the STDs, creating a favourable public opinion, opening rescue homes and hospitals for the furtherance of its objectives.

In furtherance of the convention signed at Geneva for the suppression of immoral traffic in women and girls, an advisory committee was set up which recommended for enactment of a comprehensive legislation which would keep a check on prostitution, establishment of a special police force, special courts to look into human right violation of sex workers and their families etc. There have been multiple suggestions for legalising prostitution. But the question whether such legalisation would really result into overcoming the faults of the existing system or whether it would come up with its own unique problems affecting rights of sex workers remains unanswered. The success of legalisation of the commodification of women depends on upon the efficiency of prostitution licensing board or the Prostitution Control Board. In the experience of foreign countries, mixed observations have been reported. For some countries, it has been favourable whereas for the others such as Germany, New Zealand etc. it has hardly brought any positive or remarkable changes.

It is essential that the present status be changed and necessary steps be taken to ensure that Sex workers should enjoy the same protections and benefits as other citizens and workers. Sex workers must be understood as persons endowed with rights in a meaningful fashion, not merely as a rhetorical claim.

References :

Legal aspects related to prostitution in India

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

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