The Advance of Personal Liberty?

Two thoughts from Amsterdam: On legalising prostitution and drugs,” The Acorn, http://opinion.paifamily.com/index.php?p=1278, 2 March 2005.

Acorn combines India, Europe, personal liberty, technocratic governance, and federalism in the best post, ever

While social acceptance of prostitution may not be the government’s business, the government does have an interest in tackling the social problems the ensue from prostitution. Countries like the Netherlands have legalised prostitution; both to avoid the social costs of an industry driven underground, and also to achieve the economic benefits of a formal, organised industry. Can this happen in India?

Not if the central government in New Delhi is expected to make a moral, economic, political and social decision that really is a matter for individual communities to make and live with. Prostitution is really a local business. A brothel in a small, closely knit village of 20 families is quite a different matter from a brothel in a city of 10 million people. For that reason, the decision to legalise or not must be left to the lowest level of government. In India’s context, this means that it may be a matter for the panchayati raj system. States already have the ability to impose prohibition, that another impractical measure. Empowering communities to make their own decisions on matters affecting them most may be a good way to go.

Drugs are quite another story. Amsterdam’s coffeeshops sell soft-drugs to anyone who is above the legal age. Hard drugs remain illegal. The need to make this distinction shows that the question of legalising drugs is tricky. While it can be argued that while consenting adults engage in prostitution on their own free will, this becomes harder to justify in the case of drugs. While prostitution is local, the drug industry is not. China, for example, is only too aware of how opium played a major role in undermining its society and weakening its power. This genie is best kept in the bottle for now.

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