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Being a ‘Woman’ and a ‘Prostitute’: The Dark Side of the Reality

Author Affiliations

  • 1Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi-110067, India

Int. Res. J. Social Sci., Volume 5, Issue (9), Pages 52-57, September,14 (2016)


Prostitution is considered as the oldest profession in the world and in India it has existed since centuries but its nature, concentration and issues regarding it has experienced a change. Prostitution was once socio-culturally sanctified now represented as an undignified profession that subjugates and marginalises women from all public spaces. The structured power relations and gendered practices instrumentalize the body of women that sexually exploits them and eventually repudiates them the basic human rights on the pretext of their ‘shameful’ profession of prostitution. Being a woman and a prostitute cause twofold exploitation first on the basis of their gender and secondly indulging in an act of prostitution. In many parts of India prostitution are carried out in the name of tradition and cultural practices like Devadasi (handmaiden of god) system in which unmarried young girls are dedicated to gods for sexual pleasure to priests and forced intergenerational prostitution for livelihood in Nat communities in Bihar. The paper seeks to examine the position of woman as a prostitute and attempts to analyse how their identity as a woman imposed on them the traditional practices of Devadasi system and inter-generational prostitution in Nat communities- the two case studies. It explores the reasons of persistence and impact of such cultural practices on women’s lives. So, in this context and background, methodologically the paper would explore the struggle of twofold identities being a ‘woman’ and a ‘prostitute’ in the socially sanctioned enforced tradition of prostitution. The paper is an endeavour to address the question of ‘identity’ with reference to Devadasi and inter-generational prostitution in Nat communities. The study reveals that permutation of religious pressure, economic vulnerability, and sexual exploitation form the basis of the Devadasi institution and perpetuates its survival. The research also highlights some of the initiatives of the government and the problems, constrictions and challenges being faced in implementing the desired welfare oriented programmes.


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