Focus the ‘Red Lights’; Nagarasobhanis need recognition for legalised sex trade ?
2017-02-20 Daily Mirror K.K.S Perera
Gauthama Buddha not only accepted an invitation for alms by Ambapali, but acknowledged a donation of ashram by the lady sex-worker of Vaisali. On another occasion the Buddha used a corpse of a prostitute to convey a message to those who patronised her services by spending thousands of Kahavanu for a night. He first auctioned the carcass, there were no bidders—next he offered it free, yet there was no response : perhaps they gained insight over the repulsive nature of human body. Sex for sale is an ancient profession that needs to be legalised.
Roughly speaking, there are two types of prostitutes: those enforced into the trade by social deprivation or poverty [harlot, street walker or bandhaka in Buddhist literature] and those who wished to do it as they feel it is a convenient way to earn ‘good money’; this type is called a courtesan [ganika or nagarasobhini]. The intention of the first is survival and is therefore, karmmically far less harmful than the other type whose motive might be lack of self-respect. The first is not gladly involved in wrong occupation while the second obviously is. Buddha or kings never attempted to punish or ban the profession. Buddhist literature is full of stories about ganika or nagarasobhinis. The story of 30 young men and 29 wives plus a harlot hired by the only bachelor in a group of excursionists accidentally meet the Buddha while searching for the missing harlot, who vanished with valuables collected from the affluent party. The term ‘sex worker’ was coined in 1978 by sex worker activist Carol Leigh. Its use became fashionable after publication of the text, ‘Sex Work: Writings By Women In The Sex Industry’ in 1987. The term “sex worker” is widely used, including in academic work by agencies, such as WHO.
Hazards of ‘free operation’….
We use our laws to prohibit, ban and arrest the ‘wrongdoers’ or sex workers’ like in most other countries, where sex workers are regarded as worthy of disgrace, disapproval and marginalized preventing them from seeking legal redress for discrimination that deem them spreaders of disease. We think they are a public nuisance and offenders against decency. Sex workers never disclose their work to medical authorities due to fear of such disapproval. The criminalization of sex trade leads to reluctance in disclosure as there is very little legal protection for them. In many cases, a victimized sex worker may not be able to take action against her attacker. Many sex workers, as per research do not use condoms due to the fear of confrontation and cruelty from clients. Education about disease prevention through condom use and other health practices needs a legally monitored healthcare system.
“All professions are conspiracies against the laity” - said George Bernard Shaw - the oldest profession is not excluded.
The society must treat all professions alike without discrimination. It’s worth noting here what “Tina” Fey, the American actress, comedian, writer and producer once said, “Politics and prostitution have to be the only jobs where inexperience is considered a virtue. In what other profession would you brag about not knowing stuff?
They rightfully opposed Casinos, the idea was dropped; but hoards of ‘imported’ labour, working at construction sites since then have encouraged the trade. Latest news warns of brothels mushrooming around their lodging places in the city where long queues of mongoloids waiting for their turn are seen.
Kalidasa, Kumaradasa and Royal Courtesan
Hindu Scriptures always condemned Prostitution. Parashara Smriti says, ‘selling Wine and meat, consuming prohibited foods, patronizing prostitutes a shoodra falls from his caste’. But the greatest Indian poet Kalidasa, a Classical Sanskrit writer and dramatist was murdered by a courtesan in Sri Lanka during the reign of King Kumaradasa 513-522 AD. Kumaradasa, the poet and the son of King Mugalan, who defeated brother Kassapa of Lion Rock Sigiriya, during his eighteen year-stay in India had developed a close friendship with Kalidasa, the poet, dramatist and literati. Having read Janakiharanaya authored by the King, an elated poet visited him in Sri Lanka. During his sojourn Kalidasa patronised a ‘high-end’ courtesan and found two lines of an incomplete poem inscribed on the wall of her luxurious bedroom.
‘The bee settled to draw the nectar
From the lotus with tender care’ , - [The forest bee got to the honey without hurting the flower, but got away only in the morning when the lily unfolded its petals.] The king who visited the ‘lady’ on an earlier occasion, and whilst in the passionate company of her, inspired by a bee entangled in the petals of a lotus flower, wrote the two poetic lines, and offered an incentive to anybody who could complete the other two lines. Kalidasa recognized the handwriting of his friend Kumaradasa, and wanted to take the King by surprise, he completed the verse which read,‘Bursting the ensnaring petals it escaped like ensnared here the whole night awake,’ - [The relation of the sun seeking the society of the lotus-eyed enjoyed, indeed, her company , but sleepless was caught in his toils].
The courtesan was plagued with greed. The woman seized the opportunity; she murdered Kalidasa, concealed the body in order to claim the reward for herself. The king in turn on his next visit recognised Kalidasa’s handwriting bringing the whole fatal trick to light. As the story goes, at the State funeral accorded to his friend, King Kumaradasa, unable to stand the grief, he king threw himself upon flames of the pyre, followed by his five ‘Queens’. Though the validity or accuracy of the story, given in semi-historical records namely, Pujavaliya and Perakumba Sirita cannot be completely trusted, we could reasonably surmise that the Kings and their ilk [while enjoying the comforts of five queens] also frequented Deluxe abodes of ‘Royal Courtesans’ in the good-old days as well.
"Sex workers never disclose their work to medical authorities due to fear of such disapproval. The criminalization of sex trade leads to reluctance in disclosure as there is very little legal protection for them"
Buddhist views on the practice
Buddhism does not support or oppose prostitution. Gauthama Buddha only seized an opportunity to prove a point or to explain that prostitution is an unpleasant act. Buddhists do not look down upon the worker. It provided and encouraged the practitioners an opportunity to practice dharma, that they have an equal opening to become liberated.
There’s no concept of sexual offence in Buddhism, that being a sex worker is morally wrong. It may be or it may not be, depending upon the person. Sex work takes a profound toll on a person physically and psychologically. It’s probably not the best occupation to get into if you want a peaceful and steady life. But having said so, there is no crime involved and it surely wouldn’t be unconditionally forbidden.
Legality of profession in ancient India
The Lords, Senators, Merchants, Generals; everyone had one wish.....get married to beautiful Ammbapali [Amrapali]. The State decided to make her a prostitute, they thought it was dangerous to hand over Amrapali to any one, that others would not accept it simply. It would create violence in Vaishali, the most influential democracy of ancient India. Amrapali was forced to be a ‘Nagar Vadhu’ meaning ‘wife of the city’, a prostitute, by order of Parliament.
The Buddha never looked down upon sex workers. On the contrary he provided a chance for them to go into the correct path in the same manner as anybody else. When he accepted the invitation from Ambapali for lunch; the Licchavi princes offered an invitation too. He declined it honouring Ambapali’s. Jivaka, the Buddha’s physician was mothered by a prostitute. He was never grimaced upon for his birth. There are many instances where prostitutes attained enlightenment, after being diligently practised Dhamma. In fact, the experience of a prostitute might help her towards illumination sooner than others. Although cherished as the original expressions of the Buddha, these teachings were preserved vocally for about four centuries before being scripted, providing many openings for some passages to be intentionally or inadvertently ‘corrected’ by people less enlightened than the Buddha.
Legal dimensions of sex work
Exchange of sexual services for money is legal in England, but a few related activities, like soliciting in a public place and owning or managing a brothel and pimping are crimes. Pornography is legal in the USA, but prostitution is illegal in most States. However, in other nations, both prostitution and pornography are illegal; whereas, in some both are legal. However, those who oppose the legalisation of the sex trade argue that it is naturally unfair and can never be practised in a way that compliments the rights of those who engaged in it. The World Health Organization recommends decriminalization of sex work. A recent WHO report says, “Violence against sex workers is associated with inconsistent condom use or lack of condom use, and with increased risk of STI and HIV infection. Violence also prevents sex workers from accessing HIV information and services.”
The Lancet, the top medical journal published that there is “no other option” to decriminalization of sex work in order to protect participants from HIV. Rhode Island legalized prostitution in 1980 by accident. When lawmakers deemed the State statute on prostitution to be overly broad they unintentionally removed the part defining the act itself as an offence while trying to revise it; they didn’t realize the error for two decades. This caused the new cases of gonorrhoea among women statewide to decline by 39%, over the next six years. Interestingly, sexual brutality also declined by 30%.
As a first step, the health and law enforcement authorities may carry out a research on the local sex trade prior to introduction of guidelines regulating the running of ‘ill-famed’ houses - the legal draughtsman could prepare the basic structure for liberalizing the trade on lines of similar legislation in other nations. The indecencies are not prostitutes; it’s the poverty which is indecent, and the criminal unreliability of the rulers who make this poverty a deadening certainty.