MUMBAI: Observing that prostitution, by itself, is neither a criminal offence under law, nor punishable, but its public solicitation is, the Bombay high court set aside lower courts’ orders that detained three women in a corrective home for almost a year. The court ordered that they be released immediately.
Last year, following a raid at a Malad guest house, the three women—the youngest aged 20—were picked up as ‘victims’ and their alleged pimp was arrested and booked under provisions of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act.
This newspaper has consistently held that prostitution should be legalised. Criminalising it doesn’t end the practice, but only ensures it remains under the control of criminal elements with sex workers being ruthlessly exploited. Legalising it would actually help them and open up the scope for regulation that serves both sex workers and their clientele and keeps them safe.
“What is punishable under the Act is sexual exploitation or abuse of person for commercial purpose and to earn the bread, except where a person is carrying on prostitution in a public place or is found soliciting or seducing another person,” said Justice Prithviraj Chavan in his order on Thursday.
The women were adults, the Bombay HC said, and entitled to their fundamental right to move freely and choose their own vocation. The HC was critical of the lower courts—a Mazgaon magistrate and the Dindoshi sessions court—for not considering the consent of the ‘victims’ before ordering their detention in the corrective home. The HC said that even the magistrate appears to have been “swayed by the fact that the petitioners belong to a particular caste”.
The women, through advocate Ashok Saraogi, had challenged the lower court orders of October and November 2019. The HC quashed them as being “bad in law”.
The Bombay high court also noted several “glaring discrepancies” in the raid report and failure of the magistrate in inquiring whether the alleged pimp was running a brothel or procuring women.