By Zaman Irshad Parray
Imagine you come across a brothel in a remote part of Kashmir. On account of moral indignation, you would raise a voice against this social evil and try to get the help of the administration in getting rid of it, but to your utter surprise , the administration cannot take any action against the brothel legally. The brothel owner may be a legitimate one, registered under a very little known law of yesteryears, forgotten but still in place and liable to be invoked at any time.
It may come as a shock and surprise to most as it came to me. Jammu and Kashmir , I discovered has the dubious distinction of being the only region in the sub-continent where prostitution is still legal. Under a very little known law , that is, the Public Prostitution Registration Rules 1921, a person carrying a prostitution trade can carry on the trade if she/he registers herself with a district magistrate and all she has to do is fill in a simple application form, file it in person and pay 5 rupee as fees.
Sanctioned by the Durbar of the then Maharaja Partap Singh vide Chief ministers letter no 17197, dated February 12 1921, these rules were first published in the government gazette of the same year.
The rules define a public prostitute as a woman who earns her livelihood by offering her person to lewdness for hire. More surprisingly, the rules also allow for the role of a brothel keeper and define him\her as, the occupier of any house, room, tent, boat or place resorted to by person of both sexes for the purpose of committing sexual immorality. However the brothel keeper has to ensure that he does not keep the prostitutes who are not registered with the government. with sections relating to registration, application for registration, cancellation of registration, certificate of registration, power of inspection by concerned authorities. These rules provide a full legal mechanism for a brothel and prostitution to work under the law.
While one may rightly point that these rules are not in use and are forgotten, one cannot differ to agree that these rules are still in force and could be invoked anytime and that prostitution still remains legal in our state. Though the state tries its sex offenders under Prevention of Immoral trafficking Act and the relevant sections of Ranbir Penal code, the rules of 1921 have not been repealed and can be read on the J & K law dept website.
Even though, everyone in our society seeks protection of women against sexual exploitation at their work places, J & K, at the risk of repetition, continues to be the only state where prostitution is still legal. The law is within the jurisdiction of the state government.
In a place called the valley of Sufis and saints, the legislators irrespective of party they belong, the legal luminaries those who ought to know the law owe an explanation to the people of the state for their shameful silence over the rules that legalize prostitution in the state. With the intention to spread awareness among people and because of the utter atrocious surprise over this law, I request the common masses to push for passing a resolution in the assembly for banning and making prostitution illegal in any form in Jammu and Kashmir.
—The author, a law student, can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org