“Poverty and hunger makes hapless women do anything,” Pakistani Baloch journalist Aziz Sanghur comments in a video documentary, Inside The Brothel, that captures the lives of Pakistan prostitutes on camera.
The documentary examines the various factors leading countless women to enter and stay in this profession and deal with humiliating encounters. “Just for bread in their stomach, a roof on their head, and few bucks [in their purse] they become willing to sell their bodies again and again,” Sanghur adds.
Pakistan– officially an Islamic republic where only a Muslim can become the head of state or head of government — has tens of thousands engaged in this line of work in the length and breadth of the country. Countless brothels dot the landscape. Hira Mandi in Lahore is No. 1 red-light area, followed by Napier Road in Old Karachi, Sanghur’s documentary reveals.
One of the first sex-workers narrated her tale to Sanghur on how and why she adopted the world’s oldest profession. “After college I went to seek a job as I had to feed four children as my husband left me because of his drug addiction. But the job providers were looking for something else,” she said. She said she faced a hard time finding a job.
“Men were not willing to part with five rupees, but were ready to give Rs. 500 for their lust. I realized when I can get Rs. 500 with ease, why should I go knocking doors for a job.”
Sanghur uses the Urdu word for brothels called the “Bazaar of Beauty” and uses the word “one-night bride” for the sex-worker. He said most of them told him that when they first sold their body in the bazaar they felt really ashamed of themselves, but now they have become well-trained sex workers.
The female administrators of the brothels, called gaikas, have as many as 25 to 30 girls apiece, he said. Many of them were divorced and left with children to feed.
“There are five or six men who call their friends and also give me a phone call and I go. Once I make enough to buy a one-room house, I will quit this line of trade,” the first sex-worker said.
Sanghur said most prostitutes told him they felt ashamed of themselves when the first had sex with a total stranger, but now have become accustomed to the “market of color and smells.” Sanghur revealed that some women from “respectable families” also secretly engage in the trade as their men are jobless or addicted to drugs. Their profession is laden with dangers, the documentary reveals, adding some sadistic men get violent after drinking.
“Some are good they treat us well, others are bad and treat us bad. Some twist our arms, burn us with cigarette buts or bite us,” said one prostitute. “Some say they do not like to use [condoms] others do, and we go along [with the client's wish],” a second sex-worker told Sanghur.
DIG Sindh Police Shaukat Ali told Sanghur since the Islamic law came into force in 1977, red light areas and brothel have become outlawed. “Since the law does not permit them, there is no question of their existence,” Ali said. There is no mention of the 30 years before such laws were introduced, probably because there’s every need to cover up.
However, the documentary reveals the problems faced by sex-workers, pimps and others such involved within this profession. The prostitutes and pimps alike complain that police engage in extortion and they try to dodge the cops daily.
Sanghur said there is a danger AIDS is as spreading fast as generally no safety is taken because of high illiteracy levels. Like most men in the East, Pakistanis prefer bare skin contact. In spite of official denial that prostitution is a means of survival for thousand, female sex workers are being educated on taking precautions against AIDS.
Dr. Aftab Ahmed, NGO Coordinator at the Sindh AIDS Control Program, told Sanghur his office works closely with non-profit centers to create awareness among commercial sex workers. “We are raising awareness within their community on taking safety measures that will keep them and their clients safe.”
There is a big role for pimps to play in the underworld of Pakistani brothels. “We stand on the road. The clients come to us and ask us if we have any stuff. Some give us Rs. 5,000, Rs, 10,000 and even Rs. 20,000, depending upon who we are able to hook,” one pimp tells Sanghur.
“Only God knows until when Eve’s daughters are going to be sold,” Sanghur asks. He quotes India’s famous poet Sahir Ludhianvi that women give birth to males bodies, but men have given them the bazaar for their bodies.
He too feels very disturbed with the common Pakistani attitude of blaming the women, or in this case female sex-workers.
In my experience, the majority of holier-than-thou Pakistani women are more judgmental, cruel and discriminatory towards the women engaged in this line of work, not a day goes by when a television/ print based female reporter is breaking a “so-called prostitution raid” with extremely derogatory attitude and language of hate, malice and cold condemnation.
In wake of such a bleak reality, kudos to Sanghur for highlighting this issue in a neutral manner through this documentary.
Most of his documentaries are world-class as they touch upon subjects that get sensationalized attention in Pakistani media, but they rarely get noticed in the West as they are in Urdu. “I do not have enough resources to get the subtitles in English,” Sanghur told this correspondent during a visit to the U.S. as a guest of the Department of State.
Sanghur’s documentaries have dealt with exotic stories pertaining to green turtles, seagulls, mangrove forests and honor killings.
The writer is a journalist of longstanding from Balochistan and continues to bring forth the rarely discussed issues of much human rights importance in the mainstream.