A prostitute and a porn star, working to pay bills – who’s right, who’s wrong?

Shweta Basu Prasad, Miriam Weeks: victims both.

By The American Bazaar Staff

WASHINGTON, DC: The high profile arrest of the national award winning actress Shweta Basu Prasad, 23, from a hotel in Banjara Hills in Hyderabad, caught in a compromising position with a businessman from Mumbai, has set off a fierce debate in India after the actress released a statement that she turned to prostitution of her own volition to help support her family and due to other financial constraints.

MiriamWeeksTwitter 2
Miriam Weeks. Photo credit: Twitter

Prasad said in the statement: “I have made wrong choices in my career, and I was out of money. I had to support my family and some other good causes. All the doors were closed, and some people encouraged me to get into prostitution to earn money. I was helpless, and with no option left to choose, I got involved in this act. I’m not the only one who faced this problem, and there are several other heroines who have gone through this phase.”

The police, on a tip-off, also arrested several other well-known businessmen from the hotel, who were all there to be serviced by prostitutes. Details are scarce. Reportedly, a pimp named Balu, who was collecting Rs.1 lakh each from the ‘customers’, was also arrested and sent to jail.

Shweta Basu Prasad
Shweta Basu Prasad; photo credit: Twitter/Search Andhra

Prasad underwent a medical test before being lodged in a rescue home run by the Woman and Child Welfare department. She is likely to stay there for three months. The inmates are provided with free food, clothing, medical care and vocational training, said a report by India Today.

Prasad had won the national award for best child artist in 2002 for the 2002 film Makdee. In 2005, she starred in the critically acclaimed film Iqbal. Her performance as Khadija in the film fetched her several accolades including the Best Supporting Actress Award at the 5th Karachi International Film Festival. She also acted in Ram Gopal Varma’s Darna Zaroori Hai as Ashu.

In 2008, she debuted in Telugu cinema and played her first starring role in the film Kotha Bangaru Lokam, co-starring Varun Sandesh. The film became a large commercial success. She has starred in several other Tollywood films such as Nuvvekkadunte Nenakkadunta, Priyudu and Punnami Rathri.

Shweta was recently in the news for directing and producing a documentary film called Roots. She started the film three years back and said recently it’s almost complete. The actress was reportedly also acting in and co-producing a Hindi short film called INT. Café–Night, directed by Adhiraj Bose.

The fact remains that despite all the work she was doing or had done in the past, Prasad had become a victim of not-being-able-to-keep-up-with affluence, a bug that afflicts most upcoming artists and celebrities in Bollywood and television stars in India, those who get some work initially and are in the news, are able to live in an upscale manner as per social norms expected of them, and then struggle to maintain that lifestyle when work dries up.

This is a far cry from actors even two to three decades ago, who had to climb the hard route to success and recognition, through film school and little-paid theater work to gain bit roles in film, and then were able to stay humble and show humility to the work, money and success they got. Television stars were non-entities then.

Now, in an age where money and affluence comes in a windfall for the likes of porn star-turned actress Sunny Leone, and who is treated as a diva in Bollywood, it’s hard work for actresses like Prasad who don’t want to bare it all for the screen. As she says, some actresses take to prostitution to stay the course in a career which has its rough patches. Other bit actresses and self-styled celebrities like Sherlyn Chopra now post photos of them in the buff to stay in the news, and eke out a career.

This article is not to condemn or sympathize with Prasad, but to make a point that perhaps India, where prostitution is actually legal, should stop making examples of individuals like Prasad, who may be charged finally with ‘public indecency’ or ‘public nuisance’ if at all.

In a country where most metro cities have a known area where prostitution thrives in brothels – which is illegal and carries on with impunity – it’s ironic that the police should raid and arrest Prasad for indulging in a private act in a hotel room.

In that case, the government should crack down and close all the big prostitution ‘red light’ areas like G B Road in Delhi, Kamathipura in Mumbai and Sonagachi in Kolkata – three of the biggest centers for brothels in Asia, which host thousands of sex workers and thousands more are coerced and forced to enter the trade every year, including underage girls. Surveys show there are an estimated 1.2 million children involved in prostitution in India.

According to law, in India, prostitution – exchanging sex for money – is not illegal, but the surrounding activities like operating brothels, pimping, soliciting sex, are illegal. The primary law dealing with the status of sex workers is the 1956 law referred to as The Immoral Traffic (Suppression) Act (SITA). According to this law, prostitutes can practice their trade privately but cannot legally solicit customers in public. Organized prostitution (brothels, prostitution rings, pimping etc.) is illegal. As long as it is done individually and voluntarily, in exchange for material benefit, a woman is within her rights. However, the law forbids a sex worker to carry on her profession within 200 yards of a public place.

So, if indeed Prasad was a prostitute without the help of a pimp, she cannot be even charged under current rules in India.

In the United States, where prostitution is illegal, except in some rural counties of the state of Nevada, where regulated brothels are allowed, escort services are rampant. In larger metropolitan areas such as New York City, some female escorts can charge $1,000–$2,000 per hour, with agencies that hire them taking 40%-50% of that. The prostitution trade in the United States is estimated to generate $14 billion a year.

Recently, an Indian American student at Duke University, Miriam Weeks, came into the limelight when it was revealed that she was doing porn films on the side to generate money to pay off her tuition fees. Weeks, whose mother is of Indian origin, goes by the name of Belle Knox in the porn industry, and unlike prostitution, porn films are perfectly legal in the US.

Since the news came out, Weeks has emerged as an outspoken feminist, and does not shy away from the fact that she does what she does for money and to help her achieve her dreams. Similar to what Prasad also was doing.

In a recent interview with AVN, Weeks said that she should’ve revealed what she was doing on the side before a fellow student told the world about it.

“I would always say in my interviews that I was outed, and I think that offended a lot of people in the industry,” she said. “And it really took me a lot of reflecting and a lot of discussion with people to realize that it was completely delusional of me to believe that I could do porn and I really like doing porn, so get used to it.” She also added: “I really want people to understand that I do take this seriously and I do view it as a business,” she said. “And I do care about the scenes I do and the companies I work for.”

There’s something terribly wrong if in a democracy like India – where prostitution is legal – an actress like Prasad can get arrested and humiliated for doing what she thought was best for the financial upkeep of her family, and herself.

And something quite right that in a democracy like America – where prostitution bar in some parts of a state, is illegal – a college student can do porn films with impunity and be treated as a cheerleader for women’s rights, for generating money to pay off college bills to achieve her dreams of becoming a lawyer one day.

Who’s right and who’s wrong? Readers can decide that.

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