Saturday, June 25, 2005

THIS is my culture!

sex work is something that has taken a (un) fair amount of bashing and disowning. In the name of Indian culture, over eras we have written everything there is to be written about sex, and forgotten it as well.

We picketed the theatres showing “Fire” and said “Such Things are against our culture”. We previously refused (I don’t know the scene now) to allow free distribution of condoms saying that’s not in keeping with Indian culture. The moral police have shut down dancing bars saying they will corrupt our youth and make them abandon indian culture... Our heritage has been pruned and patriarchally doctored to suit political (and prudish) propaganda.

Like me, you too must have been told repeatedly that unfaithfulness in marriages is rampant in the west and that Indian culture was puritanical and pristine before the evil days when the west cast its adulterous shadow over us. Certainly you too must have heard of anything involving aclohol or sex being labelled western.

this is in protest against the insipid, watered down, narrow minded, chauvinistic stuff that’s being dished out as “Indian culture”. I’ve already made several references in my blog earlier to the various scriptures and their open minded (not to mention practical) take on sex, sexuality and sex work. Since Im reading the arthashasthra now, I thought id put this up. (vhp, rss and shiv sena – go read this text sometime before you term things non-indian :p)

A little background first : the arthashasthra was written by Kautilya around 1850 to 2300 years ago. As arthashasthra translates to “material welfare”, the treatise deals with the way a state should be organized, what economic activities should be taken up, taxation, foreign policy, law enforcement, maintenance of order, etc. there is one section of the arthashasthra that deals exclusively with prostitution. Since this is primarily a clinical manual on the economic welfare of the state, the chapter is business-like, discussing revenue collection from and administration in prostitution.

It was recognized that driving prostitution underground was absurd. So they did the best thing: put it under strict state control. The Chief Controller of Entertainers (that's right, there was an administrative post for it!) ensured that this form of public entertainment was managed smoothly and that no unfair transactions were forced on either client or prostitute.

Practitioners were of 3 kinds:
- Courtesans
- Concubines
- Women who lived by their looks (rupajivas), who also independently entertained clients in smaller places where full fledged state-run establishments were absent.

The state owned most of the houses of entertainment. For setting up a house, the state gave lump sum monetary grants to the head courtesan (1000 panas) and her deputy (500 panas) to purchase furnishings, flowers, jewellery, musical instruments, and other tools of the trade. The Chief Controller of Entertainers would check the head courtesans accounts periodically.

Independent prostitutes were not given grants or asked for accounts, but they paid 1/6th of their revenue as tax. In times of financial distress all practitioners had to produce extra revenue, independents paying upto 50% of their income as tax.

Courtesans were trained in the necessary skills at the expense of the state. The Kamasutra, another much-hyped but much-distorted text, lists the skills that a courtesan must have. These include singing, dancing, ability to judge the mood of a client, skill in making garlands, making perfumes, ability to discuss current affairs, art and politics, knowledge of people, different methods of love making, recitation, acting, writing, painting, shampooing, etc. As you can see, a courtesan of those days was no bimbo! In fact, she was an intelligent, cultured, well-informed woman, skilled in dealing with people. She was accordingly respected and treated well. (while we are on the subject of the kamasutra, the Richard Burton translation is supposed to be good. publishers: Hamlyn)
Courtesans sons were required to work as the kings minstrel from the age of 8 onwards, and were also trained to produce plays and dances.

The madam of an establishment was a very important person. She could become the personal attendant of the king or queen. A very high price of 24,000 panas (her annual salary) had to be paid to release her from her post. (This was the second highest annual salary paid only to the top officials like the Chief of the King’s Bodyguards, Treasurer, Chancellor...) If appointed to the king, based on her looks and skills, she would be paid 1000, 2000 or 3000 panas. ( the salary paid to the king’s personal advisor, attendants, physician etc. was 1000 panas!)

The head courtesans post could never be inherited by her son. Only a daughter or deputy could succeed her and control the establishment. If both were absent, then the state took over the establishment, appointing the next head.

There were special punishments for depriving a prostitute’s daughter of her virginity with or without her consent. The mother could make the man pay 16 times the fee for a normal visit in addition to a fine if he did this. (isn’t that neat? – avoiding potential abuse situations.) The right of the mother to protect her daughter until she came of age was firmly recognized and respected.

Courtesans had the code of conduct and ethics to follow suited to their profession. They could not refuse a client who had come to them for their normal services, and conversely, there were also rules governing who could approach a courtesan. There was even a provision for the wife to seek redress if her husband continually refused to sleep with her since men had the alternative outlet of visiting an establishment! court cases concerning courtesans were addressed in a separate court of law with exclusive rules since these issues were different from the rest of society’s.

So you see, far from having closed its eyes to sex, or shuddering prudishly about it, Indian culture had a very healthy, well thought out, fair attitude towards it. The next time someone preaches inaccurately to you about it – get 'em! These are the facts.

If I continue feeling this enthu, my next post shall be about alcohol and our culture :)

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22 Comments:

Blogger morpheus said...

well written M...made for good reading...

2:42 am  
Anonymous amit said...

thanks is a small word. eagerly waiting for the next post.

7:16 am  
Blogger krishna canchi said...

have come across loads and loads of arguments about the "hypocrisy of indian culture".
but this one was different because it was studded with facts and handled one particular issue, very very well indeed!!
kudos to u!!keep writing:)
btw,eagerly awaiting a similar one abt alcohol and indian culture...

12:27 pm  
Anonymous Charu said...

m, very interesting - we did have a healthy and sometimes almost embarrassingly open attitude to sex :) as you can see from a visit to say khajuraho... wonder where and when this whole repressive attitude took over - some poeple attribute it to the muslim/mughal influence - I personally think it was yet another ploy to keep women down under the doornat...

8:54 pm  
Blogger ~phobiac~ said...

hey...M...with u on most of the things ....but....one thing that I fell is the problem here...

our society is not mature enough to handle this...

now u can come back and say that our culture is the oldest and so has to be mature...well it was ...but now after the invasion and mixing of new ideas and cultures...this new mixed culture will take time to mature ....

school children getting body pierced....partying in pubs...thinking thats cool...and our great DPS thamasha...

think about it...being open has done more bad than good..in certain cases... !

10:06 pm  
Blogger sensiblystoned said...

Un-bravo-believable. M, only you could have pulled off such a post. I knew that most of the stuff about sex got twisted as time went on but only now the extent to which it has been twisted is clear. The land of kama sutra is now influenced by prudes and hypocrites, unfortunately. Great post. Loved your past post on pornography too. Hats off to you.

10:14 am  
Blogger m. said...

@morph: thankoo!:)

@amit: lol... im working on it now! :)

@krishna canchi: thanksh. glad you liked it! the alcohol ones comin up soon - just doing a little more research for it :d

@charu: hul-lo! am honoured you dropped in! yesh, patriarchy again definitely. have you read/heard about yoni culture? its SO interesting, and so different from the trash we get nowadays. it was a very feminist culture. i loved it!

@phobiac: hi. we are not mature enough to handle what? talking openly about what were doing furtively? how mature does that make us?!
lets not blame school kids. where are the adults brains & sense of responsibility? should the parents have a talk with their kids about drinking, smoking, sex and so on? they expect kids to see that trash everywhere around em and not try it at all? how intelligent!
being open is not flaunting sex and alcohol sleazily. its about being able to discuss it neutrally and honestly, dont you think? :)

@ss: nooo! blushing does NOT suit my muddy complexion!! lol. so you read the porn one eh? im glad :)
thanks a lot!

10:57 pm  
Anonymous Charu said...

post on porn - beep! my radar went up - and I went and read it - excellent post - I left a longish comment there too :)
(your profile says non profit - what exactly do you do?)

12:22 am  
Blogger KoPoS said...

Great read!

Would like you to visit this post http://vsequeira.blogspot.com/2005/06/from-kama-sutra-to-banning-valentines.html, that tries to find out the reasons for transformation.

Isnt it funny and pretty amazing that the culture of India that is currently being shown off/touted by RSS, VHP etc is more Islamic/Christian than Indian? with its demarcation between men and women and the concept of Original Sin(bar dancers & rape)?

12:45 am  
Blogger Eroteme said...

Interesting post. We think on the same lines. Kautilya was a suave and intelligent guy. His fundaes were too good.
All of this and much more are so thorougly misinterpreted in our culture; Kamasutra (read it about a dozen times till I got bored with its clinical treatment of physical interaction. Who is that guy who said it was soft porn? Bozo.), Kajuraho, Devadasi tradition, etc.
Glad you put it so clearly. Nice one. Could have expected it from you... ;-)

3:28 am  
Blogger Aditya Bidikar said...

Excellent post.

3:53 am  
Blogger m. said...

@charu : lol, i know - i do the same thing for some topics! thanks - i saw the comment and replied there :) oops, forgot to the change the status of employment! i was working in an NGO as a counsellor for people with HIV. currently jobless :)

@shashanka: thanks so much for the link : very interesting. hmmm. i dont know about the islam bit. if we start ascribing the distortion to any religion as such, im sure the whole thing will become a highly political affair and the *real* problem will be forgotten!! other than that, i think all the old religions were open minded. its only with time that theyve all (hinduism included) become patriarchal and stuffy. hinduism stinks as much as the next religion for its misogynistic treatment of women at times!

@aditya: thank you :)

4:18 am  
Blogger Gaurav said...

Hey M.,
great post....liked it...wheres the India as it used to be...not only maybe coming of britishers destroyed it all....a lot many things changed then...and now all what was buried in our past is cropping up in west...and in not so right a manner....and gets termed as sleaze...u did a great work in studying our past....excellent...too good perfect... :-)

blogrolled ya... :-)

2:35 am  
Blogger m. said...

@gaurav: thanks! :d

9:00 pm  
Blogger Senthil said...

Like I said, stuff you read psyches me out. Very interesting post, this.

2:44 pm  
Blogger m. said...

@senthil: thank you! lol... this is NOT so unusual you know! many of our treatises are very very interesting...

1:25 am  
Blogger Conan said...

Your blog is refreshing as it is intelligent.

1:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well written post. Actually, even as close as 20/30 years back, when more people used to live in villages with farms etc, the children would grow up seeing sex and violence. They would see the bulls mounting the cows; the calves and chicken being slaughtered for food, etc. Now with more and more urbanisation, we are getting more "sanitised" and getting further away from reality.

8:30 pm  
Blogger m. said...

@mike: thanks!

@anon: thank you. yup. "sanitised" is very graphic - sums it up well! we live a totally weird sterile life dont we. very often scientific progression is cultural regression.

8:47 am  
Blogger Whoiscb said...

Made a great read. Learned a lot of things. Lovely blog.

12:20 am  
Anonymous cialis said...

I, of course, a newcomer to this blog, but the author does not agree

8:34 pm  
Anonymous Elliott Broidy said...

wonderfully put

1:41 pm  

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