The scene is the Isia Bar, 15 Free school, Calcutta. A hall of enchantment extends nocturnal invitation to have a nice time with svelte sylphs. The entrance fee is but a paltry Rs 15 per man and inside is served animating liquor.
Scantily clad female flash of sweet seventeen or thereabouts flit about or on laps, to the heady tune of band music. They solicit carnal custom, and the willing male victims pay Rs 30, choose whom they fancy, drink together and, taking leave of decencies, indulge in promiscuous sex exercise legally described as operation prostitution.
The stage is busy with many men and girls moving into rooms, lavatories, and chambers. The curtain rises and a raiding party of police and excise officers surprise this erotic company drowned in drink and damsels.
This lecherous drama need not detain us further. The Act went into action, a prosecution was launched against many under Sec. 7, resulting in conviction and sentence of two persons, the proprietor and the manager of the Isias Bar. Oftentimes, a bar or restaurant is a euphemism for a brothel and the socialites, unsuspectedly and without smirch, satisfy their ex parte in the respectably labelled houses patronized by even prestigious dignitaries and opulent businessmen.
The magistrate also ordered the bar to be evicted and restore possession thereof to the owner landlord or his agent and further directed that the premises or any portion thereof shall not be leased out, or otherwise given possession of, to or for the benefit of the person or persons, who were connected with the improper user thereof. Refusing to interfere with the order, the Court held:
We are in the International Women’s Year - a circumstance meaningful socially, but not relevant legally. Even so, it is time to tighten up this statute and we may permit ourselves a few concluding observations, hopefully. Maybe there are other provisions of the Act which have contributed to its dismal failure in the field and the legislature must, in the International Year of Women, protect the virtue of the weaker sex from the purchasing power of the takers of virginity who sip every flower and change every hour.
No nation, with all its boasts, and all its hopes, can ever morally be clean till all its women are really free - free to live without sale of their young flesh the lascivious wealth or commercialising their luscious figures. India, to redeem this ‘gender justice’ and to prescribe prostitution whereby rich men buy poor women through houses of vice, has salved its social conscience by enacting the Act. But the law is so ill-drafted and lacunose that few who follow ‘the most ancient profession with world’ have been frightened into virtue and the customers of wine-cum-women are catered to respectably in bars, hotels, and nightclubs in sophisticated and subtle ways, especially in our cities.
We dismiss the appeal, upholding the power of the magistrate to order eviction when there is a conviction under Sec. 3 or Sec. 7, confident that public power vested in a public functionary for the public benefit shall be used whenever conditions necessary for the exercise are present, so that a comprehensive social purpose of moral clean-up of public places is accomplished.
Excerpted with permission from Speaking from the Bench: Selected Judgments of Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, edited by P.B. Sahasranaman, Oxford University Press.
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