TODAY -

Red Light Area in Manipur?

James Oinam *



In the wake of the Puzzle restaurant incident, where some 50 men and women were found to be behaving in an inappropriate manner, a Facebook friend sent a message through the Messenger service of the social networking site:

Meibu feena kuplaga tham dei sharuk...red lite jaga ama thambana faroidra? Delhigee GB Road/Mumbaigee MG Road/Kolkatagee Sonagachi...Imphalgeena kari thonshige...govt.ki apamba ama thonginbiro...’ (loose translation: Instead of covering the fire with cloth, won’t it be better to have a red light area? Delhi’s GB Road/Mumbai’s MG Road/Kolkata’s Sonagachi...what would Imphal’s [red light area] be called?...whatever the name the government wants...).

As my FB friend has used some cold reasoning to argue his/her case, I will not approach the subject from moral or cultural standpoint, which the readers I am sure can imagine for themselves. Also, whenever the discussion on tourism industry in Manipur comes up, it is one the questions that comes up in my mind. So I feel this topic is worth the debate.

In undeveloped and developing economies, especially in patriarchal societies, prostitution is exploitation-driven industry. Why prostitutes are predominantly girls/women in such societies? Although I’m not sure of the proportion but I have heard about male prostitutes in developed economies. In developing economies with inefficient law-enforcement system, activities like trafficking drives prostitution.

In Manipur also there are signs of human trafficking existing, in nascent stages at least, as indicated by the rescue of 8 girls recently from Myanmar. Having a red light area might exacerbate such activities, with Imphal becoming one of the import centres!

In India poor parents and guardians are known to sell their children and wards who often end up in these areas. In places like Haryana, where parents prefer boy child over girl child, there are more men of marriageable age than girls. Families here are known to ‘buy’ brides from other states as far as Assam.

Exploitation of the labour class is a direct result of a weak law enforcement and corruption. There have been complaints that labourers employed for construction of Delhi metro were paid below the minimum wage. If this is the condition of labouring class working under a completely legal environment, what would be condition of the prostitutes labouring on the fringes of the law?

My former landlord and his elder brother are street hawkers. They sell popular eatables on the streets of Delhi. The law is ambivalent on whether this is allowed or not. And the rumour is the street police collects money from them for allowing them to occupy certain corners of the street.

This money is split with lower end of the bureaucracy keeping a smaller share and higher ups taking a larger share. And like this, those who live on the fringes of the law (which red light area would also be) earn paisa and a portion of it would be collected to form a rupee for the higher-ups—a kind of trickle-up economy.

Such exploitation not just by the pimps (who runs the industry along with the human traffickers?) on the one hand and corrupt state authorities on the other exist in developed economies also where there are calls or debates over legalizing sex work.

To quote activist Juno Mac on TED Talks: ‘If you care about gender equality or poverty or migration or public health, then sex worker rights matter to you,’ she says. ‘Make space for us in your movements.’ A sex worker herself, she feels decriminalizing it would be the best option.

But her arguments does not fit in Manipuri context I think. There is poverty in Manipur, but the disparity between the rich and poor, and the level of desperation due to poverty, is not to the extent one sees in cities like Delhi, Kolkata or Mumbai. Hence, one cannot argue that there is poverty-driven need in Manipur to have a red light area.

In the case of Manipur, in the current socio-economic and legal scenario, allocating a red light zone will do more harm than good I think. In future, if we create a society where women and men, freely of their own will, and in spite of other professions available to them, chooses this work over others, and when there is a powerful and effective law enforcement by the state, we may revisit our stand over this. But for the time being and for the foreseeable future, I think No is my answer.

Will it harm tourism industry? Singapore is a tourist hotspot. This is despite the fact that drug peddling is punishable with death. Also, its immediate neighbouring countries are known for their opium production around the world (the Golden Triangle).

References

http://www.timesnownews.com/india/article/50-arrested-in-imphal-for-immoral-drinking-and-dancing/110053
http://e-pao.net/GP.asp?src=26..110917.sep17
https://www.ted.com/talks/juno_mac_the_laws_that_sex_workers_really_want


* James Oinam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on October 31, 2017.


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