The Case of the Honest Prostitute

Books on Constitutional Law are on Judges, Lawyers, occasionally on Politicians. Judges are the central actors, not actual litigants / histories of the disputes. The central actor in Rohit De, A People’s Constitution, (Princeton University Press, 2018) is the citizen litigant; private interests assumes public significance.

We rarely meet those who have at least, at most one positive act to share on Former Hon’ble Chief Justice of India, Hon’ble Justice K.G. Balakrishnan. Expensively priced. Magnificently written. Excerpt, follows.

Chapter 4: The Case of the Honest Prostitute


Elegant, Nineteenth Century Neo-Romanesque Building, The Allahabad High Court has always been a hive of activity. However, even frequent visitors would agree that on May 1, 1958 an unusually large crowd gathered in the courtroom of Justice Jagdish Sahai. The crowd was drawn there by the rare presence of a young, twenty-four-year-old, female petitioner in the overwhelmingly masculine courtroom.

Husna Bai challenged the validity of Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act, 1956 (SITA). SITA violated her fundamental right to practice prostitution. She challenged the presumption that the prostitute was a victim of men, economic circumstances. SITA made it a criminal offence to practice prostitution within two hundred yards of a place of religious worship, an educational institution, a hotel, a hospital, a nursing home / solicit sex through words, gesture, willful exposure. Courts were authorized to detain a convict in a ‘shelter’. Justice Sahai’s final decision: mild; nonbinding observations.

SITA’s constitutionality settled: Kaushalya Devi, AIR 1964 SC 416. The right to exchange sex for money continues to be asserted by prostitutes’ organization.