Cantonment Act Of 1864

The regulation of prostitution in British India was first ushered in by the Cantonment Act of 1864.The Cantonment Acts regulated and structured prostitution in the British military bases. The structuring features of the Cantonment Acts provided for about twelve to fifteen Indian women for each regiment of British soldiers. Each regiment contained about a thousand soldiers. These women were kept in brothels called chaklas. They were licensed by military officials and were allowed to consort with soldiers only. Most of the women came from poor families and had no other opportunities for social or economic independence. The structural inequalities that pushed women into prostitution were often enforced by the colonial governments. The Cantonment Act of 1864 provided for the establishment and extension of hospitals in cantonments.

Women working in chaklas were often required to undergo medical examinations once a week, in order to examine them for traces of venereal diseases. Prostitutes were often confined against their wills in these prison hospitals, especially if they were found to have a venereal disease. The Cantonment Act of 1864, originally meant for military bases, was eventually extended to the Presidencies and Provinces of British India. However, when military personnel were increasingly struck down by venereal diseases, more regulations were demanded. This eventually led to the Indian Contagious Disease Acts. As the practice of prostitution increasingly became a source of contention between Indians and the British, another Cantonment Act was enacted. This Act of 1895 explicitly outlawed any licensing or official approval of prostitution in cantonments. This was seen as a strong measure to prevent the spread of venereal disease, and most of the military was opposed to the Act.


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