This post was prepared during Navaratri. We apologize for this delay in posting it.
Consensual Sex and Prostitution have always been very contentious issues. However, those who think it is easy to take a decision will do well to recall that in medieval Europe sex was allowed only for procreation. Recreational sex itself was a taboo.
In this post, we do not propose to answer the deeper moral issues of whether recreational sex, consensual sex, and prostitution are sin or not. We rather assume that notwithstanding our stands, instances of these things will happen, and we need to have a somewhat more balanced view on the matter.
While we are not official spokesperson for Sanatana Dharma. However, it is a matter of common knowledge that prostitution existed, and there were many instances of prostitutes who later spiritually evolved into saints or devotees. It is quite possible that prostitution was never a recommended profession in the sense that possibly no parents wanted their children to pursue careers in commercial sex-work. However, prostitutes were not, let us put it that way, subject to witch-hunt, much less stoned to death! At least in pre-Islamic India. The stories of Pingala in ShrimadBhagavatam and that of Amrapali during Buddha's life are well known. Similarly prevalence of texts like KamaSutra indicates that sex was not a taboo subject.
We are not Feminists of any sort, and we surely are not gender-feminists, the likes of those who are criticized by the equity-feminist author Christina Hoff Sommers. Feminism is a complex issue and we would rather not get into that here. Also, we are gender-realists in the sense that we do acknowledge that gender matters in many ways. At the same time we also emphasize that jiva (loosely called the soul) has no gender, it is a spark of life, and in that sense, a woman's life can not be less important than a man's life. If at all, it can only be somewhat more important, which possibly explains the prevalence of chivalry across many, if not most, cultural lines.
We also appreciate that once any empowerment happens, it can also be misused, in exactly the same manner in which a Dalit man can accuse an upper caste man of using a 'casteist slur' and make the life of the upper-caste man immensely difficult.
With such background, we make a few points:
1. Prostitution must be Legal: If a woman, for whatever reasons, desires to trade her body, this right can not be denied to her.
2. Freedom to Disassociate must be Legal: Freedom not to associate with meat eaters, gamblers, prostitutes, is also a fundamental freedom. If there exists freedom to do certain things, there must be equally freedoms not to associate with persons indulging in these things.
Thus, Separate regions, even cities, can be set-up where such things can be done. While those, who for whatever reasons, want to live, want to bring up their children, etc., in a 'protected surrounding' must be allowed to set-up such surroundings.
3. All Rapes must de dealt as Very Serious Crimes: A prostitute conducts some business; the right of a seller to refuse to sell to a buyer, like the right of a buyer to refuse to buy from a seller, is a fundamental right. Thus, Rape, on a prostitute is as severe a crime as rape on other women. If at all, what constitutes rape may be defined somewhat differently (if at all) by legal experts incorporating opinions from women (including prostitutes).
We have mentioned earlier that Rape on a woman (as seen by her) is worse than a murder. Thus, rape must be seen almost as bad as murder.
4. Exemplary Punishment must be accorded: And rape must be dealt with extremely severe punishment, including death penalty, decapitation etc. (see for example here, and here)
5. The issue of 'public' places, like train-stations, bus-stations, etc., is somewhat more complicated. Our guess is that once there are places where prostitution, gambling, etc. can be freely conducted, the tendency among people to attempt such transactions in 'public places' will greatly reduce. The general principle mentioned in point-2 would possibly suffice to handle most issues.
There would be a great many practical difficulties in implementing any of the above. As always: We also submit that these are by no means The Last Word on these matters. However, we do emphasize that serious debates and discussions on these matters must begin as early as possible.