Friday, July 2, 2010

Philippa Levine: "Veneral Disease, Prostitution, and the Politics of Empire: The Case of British India."

Journal of History of Sexuality, Vol. 4, 4. April 1994, pp. 579-602

Over 200 per 1000 British troops had to be hospitalized for venereal disease in India during the late 19th century. (Levine suggests that the figure might be inflated)

Two classes of "registered" prostitutes -- 1st class (service English men), and 2nd class (service local/native men). There were also poor women who sold themselves to Europeans for less money. One rule instituted by the British banned female grass-cutters from working on the grounds of military cantonments.

Women registered as class 1 prostitutes were forbidden from having sex with Indian men. One prostitute was in 1887 point fined 2 rupees for doing so (in Kasauli). In actuality, the boundary between the two classes wasn't strict, Levine suggests.

Women who registered themselves as prostitutes had to submit to a genital examination to prevent the spread of syphilis and gonorrhea. This was justified by the British administration as not being too rude for Indians (see quote below).

Military cantonments actually had officially designated areas (Lal Bazaars) where prostitutes lived. Sometimes they were given free housing.

Lord Kitchener in 1905: ""the common women as well as the regular prostitutes in India are almost all more or less infected with disease.""

They spread the rumor that syphilis contracted by "Europeans from Asiatic women" was more severe than that contracted from European women.

Despite the colonial government's best efforts it's not clear that brothels were racially segregated. There were European women working in them as of the late 19th century, though government officials wanted to believe that they were mostly Eastern Europeans and Jews.

Indian Contagious Diseases Act (Act XIV of 1868):

The colonial enactments aimed at controlling female prostitution and
curbing venereal disease, especially among the British military, differed
in important respects from their domestic cousins. Enacted principally
in the 1860s, at the same time as the British acts, almost every British
colony acquired regulations governing the behavior of prostitute women
as a measure against the encroachment of syphilis and gonorrhea. In
India two major legislative measures-both assuming this direct relationship
between the fact of prostitution and the transmission of disease-
were introduced in the mid-1860s. The umbrella Cantonments
Act (Act XXII of 1864) organized the sex trade within military cantonments
as part of a broader regulation of commercial activity within the
military towns. Four years later, the Indian Contagious Diseases Act (Act
XIV of 1868) enacted similar provisions for the supervision, registration,
and inspection of prostitute women in major Indian cities and seaports.

Registration under the Contagious Diseases Act:

Not surprisingly Indian women were subject
to closer control than were British women.23 The three British acts
(1864, 1866, and 1869) limited registration to women apprehended by
the police on suspicion of prostitution. In India, however, permission to
engage in prostitution was premised on self-registering. This may seem
a small thing, but it rests, I think, on huge assumptions about "Eastern"
morality. The rhetoric of the British legislation remained doggedly
attached to the possibility of redemption, and women hospitalized for
treatment of venereal disease were subjected to religious and moral in-
struction and urged to remove to refuges and asylums upon cure and

Genital examinations:

A common theme, constantly contradicted by complaints and petitions
for exemption from unhappy women, was that the internal genital
examination, which lay at the heart of all the contagious diseases acts
and ordinances, was regarded with nonchalance in India. "The special
sensibility of European women ... as to corporal examinations, which
even with them does not generally extend to the class of prostitutes, is
absent among the same class in India. . . . The regulation of courtezans
in the public interest offends no native susceptibility.

Free housing/ lal Bazaars:

In military cantonments women usually were restricted to what were
effectively areas of regimental brothels, often known as lal-bazars, and
in some cases were provided with free housing from which to conduct
their business. At Saugor, a cantonment in the central provinces under
the Bombay command, twelve free quarters were reserved for registered
women in the Sudder bazaar in the very year in which the Contagious
Diseases Acts were repealed in Britain.

How to incite fear in the solider -- tell him nightmare stories about the syphilis he'll contract:

Syphilis contracted by Europeans from Asiatic women is much
more severe than that contracted in England. It assumes a horrible,
loathsome and often fatal form through which in time, as years pass
on the sufferer finds his hair falling off, his skin and the flesh of
his body rot, and are eaten away by slow, cankerous and stinking
ulcerations; his nose first falls in at the bridge and then rots and
falls off; his sight gradually fails and he eventually becomes blind;
his voice, first becomes husky and then fades to a hoarse whisper
as his throat is eaten away by foetid ulcerations which cause his
breath to stink. (from Kitchener's Memorandum to the Troops, 1905. Cited in Levine, 592)

The thin color lines -- between European and Indian women in brothels:

The European prostitute, by
her very presence, challenged white supremacy in distinctive and critical
ways, which reveal dramatically and vividly the importance of sexual politics
in colonial rule.55 Despite the attempt to segregate Europeanserving
and native-serving brothels, it was widely acknowledged that
many women rarely heeded these niceties of distinction unless compelled
to do so. In consequence, reality held out the possibility that European
women might, in fact, sexually service Asian men.

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