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The oldest profession undergoing transformation



By Simran Bawa

“From time immemorial, Indian poets have sung praises of the ‘public woman’, the professional entertainer. The epics give us a colourful description of her intimate connection with royal splendour. The Puranas highlight her auspicious presence as a symbol of good luck. Buddhist literature also testifies to the high esteem in which she was held in society. She appears through ages in different incarnations from apsara in divine form to ganika, devadasi, nartika, kanchani, tawaif and the nautch girl.”

In these lines from Pran Nevile, we find a certain amount of serenity with which he has expressed his appreciation for the femme-fatale. With abundant testimonies from spheres of history, art, mythology and culture; he is trying to comprehend the insurmountable significance of the role that a ‘temptress’ plays in society. Unfortunately, even the beauty of his words fails to communicate the cursed cries of these women; these words fail to transcend the ugly truth behind the magnificent masquerade they ought to put on before showing up to the world.

For ages, people, especially in India, have been calling them different names and cornering them to dark and dingy lanes, cursing their existence in leisure yet seeking pleasure. We have been trying to alienate them from society in an attempt to uphold the integrity of people of our kind, people with self-respect and people with ‘civility’.

Alas! Even basic human rights were denied to the sex workers. It was the same ‘civilized’ men, men who spat profanities at their face during the day and sought solace in their embrace during the night, who denied them of their fundamental rights. Sympathy seemed too far-fetched so all that they asked for was acceptance, but they were deprived of that.

Some people hated prostitutes and sex workers without realisation. All kinds of circumstances that led these prostitutes to choose their profession seemed to have no relevance to some of the cynical citizens who were daunting them and their profession.

It would be a highly derogatory remark to say that some women in those times were born to be a prostitute. Prostitution was never a talent that needed to be recognised. Women were forced into prostitution by cursed fates of their own during years ago. 

But over the period of time, the environment, society and perspective of the people has evolved itself in a revolutionary manner. People have started to accept the ideologies and functioning that revolves around prostitution. Great attempts are being made to create awareness about the miserable condition of prostitutes and at the same time, rescue operations and relief programmes are being organised by several NGOs.

Forced prostitution has observed a significant decline in the recent years. Efforts are being made to ensure the safety, security, health and education of women and their children in brothels. Besides, the attitude of the people is changing towards their profession.

Moreover, the Supreme Court of India recently pronounced a landmark judgment, recognising prostitution as a profession, a long-awaited step aimed providing equal status and eqaul protection under the law. 

India has come a really long way to provide these prostitutes an equivalent status of a woman, but we still have a long journey left to be covered in getting them a normal human lifestyle. There are still hundreds of unheard and unattended issues of trauma, depression and abuse in many brothels. It’s time those issues are heard and solved!