Saturday, May 13, 2006

Prostitution legal in J&K, govt plans to scrap old law

• Prostitutes can register by filling form, paying Rs 5
Riyaz Wani, Indian Express

SRINAGAR, MAY 12: As Kashmir seethes in anger over the sex abuse scandal involving top politicians, senior police officers and bureaucrats, the government is planning to repeal an old law with makes prostitution legal in the state.

Jammu and Kashmir is the only state in the country where prostitution is legal. According to the Public Prostitutes Registration Rules, 1921, a prostitute can carry on her trade legally if she registers herself with the District Magistrate. She has to fill in a simple application form, file it in person and pay Rs 5 as fee.
Though, the State tries its sex offenders under the Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act (PITA) and the sections of its own Ranbir Penal Code, the rules of 1921 have not been repealed. The rules are still published in J&K Laws, the State’s statute book.Law Minister Muzzaffer Hussain Beigh, who is also the Deputy Chief Minister of J-K, admitted the rules were still in force and could be invoked. ‘‘Yes, the rules are in the book and are as such valid,’’ Beigh said. He, however, said the Government would repeal them in the next Assembly session. ‘‘It is a different matter that no woman would register now under the rules, but the rules will have to go.’’ Sanctioned by the Darbar of the then Maharja Hari Singh vide Chief Minister letter No 17197, dated February 12, 1921, these rules were first published in 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.’’ The rules also allow for the role of a brothel keeper and defines him or 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.

The Kashmir Bar Association in a PIL on the sex abuse scandal has sought the repeal of the rules. ‘‘These rules are still part of the J&K statute book. Even though the state has PITA, these rules are not outside the framework of the Act. And we are the only state in India which has them,’’ Bar Association president Mian Abdul Qayoom said.
Qayoom said, if anybody wished, he or she can invoke these rules. ‘‘A woman, if she wishes, can register herself as a prostitute. Being in force still, the rules cannot be simply brushed aside.’’ Registrar General of J-K High Court Hasnain Masoodi agrees: ‘‘According to these rules, an adult woman can of her own free volition register herself as a prostitute while the PITA presumes that she is coerced, induced or influenced.’’

District Magistrate, Srinagar, Asghar Samoon said there was no record of any prostitute registering in Srinagar after 1947.


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