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Who was Gangubai Kathiawadi?

GS Paper 1:

Topics Covered: Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, personalities, issues.



A film starring actor Alia Bhatt is facing legal trouble after individuals claiming to be family members of the main protagonist, Gangubai Kathiawadi, have objected to her portrayal in the film.


Who is Gangubai Kathiawadi?

Full name: Ganga Harjeevandas Kathiawadi.

From: Gujarat.

Known for: One of Mumbai’s well-known and influential brothel owners in the 50s and 60s. She also fought for the welfare and rights of sex workers.


Brief history of her life:

  • She is said to have been sold to a brothel owner by her husband.
  • She gradually ended up operating her own brothel.
  • She is known to also have lobbied for the rights of commercial sex workers.
  • Gangubai, apparently, lobbied with politicians on this issue.


Why is the movie based on her life being opposed?

Her adopted children have objected to her portrayal in the film and sought a stay on its release.

  • The petitioners have said that the movie shows her as a ‘prostitute’ and a ‘mafia queen’.
  • It claims that after the release of the film’s trailer, the women members of his family who live in the redlight areas of Kamathipura have been a victim of objectionable and abusive comments by men, affecting their reputation.


Challenges faced by sex workers:

  • Sex work is not recognised as “legitimate work.
  • They do not become eligible to benefit from the government’s relief programmes.


How are they protected?

The Suppression of Immoral Traffic in Women and Children Act was enacted in 1956.

Subsequent amendments were made to the law. And the name of the Act was changed to Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act.

  • This is the legislation currently governing sex work in India.

Article 23(1) of the Constitution prohibits traffic in human beings and beggars and other similar forms of forced labor. Article 23(2) declares that any contravention of this provision shall be an offense punishable in accordance with the law.


Pros and Cons of legalizing prostitution:

  • If prostitution is legalized, the State will acquire responsibility to manage brothels and it can fulfill this obligation by issuing a license to authorized persons.
  • It shall also formulate guidelines regarding the age of prostitutes, database on clientele, adequate remuneration and medical facilities to the prostitutes.
  • By this method, the prostitutes can acquire some rights such as the right to medical care, the right to education of their children, right against exploitation and rape, etc.
  • This method can facilitate the eradication of sex racquet operations, hidden and street prostitution, abuse of prostitute, etc.
  • There shall be protection houses established for those prostitutes who have lost their livelihood, or those who were forced into prostitution but do not want that lifestyle anymore.
  • Also, the government can impart training and basic education to these prostitutes so that they find other means to earn money and sustain their livelihood.



  • On the flipside, legalization of prostitution could be misinterpreted as the promulgation of prostitution.
  • This could pave the way for easy money for prostitutes and could encourage more women to practice prostitution.
  • There is a great possibility that this could be a revenue-generating industry for the Government.


Insta Curious:

Did you know that the book “Mafia Queens of Mumbai” talks about Gangubai Kathiawadi’s life and her struggles?

Sources: Indian Express.