Born Unto Brothels - Towards a Legal Ethnography of Sonagachi’s Sex Industry
82 Pages Posted: 20 May 2011
Date Written: May 18, 2011
In the throes of a global sex panic, governments today are actively rethinking laws regulating sex work. While the normative status of sex work continues to be deeply contested, both feminists and governments display an unwavering faith in the power of the criminal law to at once repress sex markets and liberate sex workers. While much has been written about the politics of criminalization, far less is known about its economic implications. Based on a legal ethnography of Sonagachi, Kolkata’s oldest and largest red-light area, I demonstrate how highly internally differentiated groups of stakeholders, including sex workers, are variously endowed by a plural rule network consisting of formal legal rules, informal social norms and market structures and routinely enter into bargains in the shadow of the criminal law whose outcomes cannot be determined a priori. I problematize the simplistic narrative of criminalization by examining the economic impact of criminalizing customers on Sonagachi’s sex industry.
Keywords: sex work, India, ITPA, rent control
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