Sex workers: ‘Yes, we are sinners, but our life is an open book’

Published: January 14, 2012

Sold at 14, Shahida spent most of her life finding an escape from the red-light area.

Sold at 14, Shahida spent most of her life finding an escape from the red-light area. Sold at 14, Shahida spent most of her life finding an escape from the
red-light area . ILLUSTRATION: JAMAL KHURSHID

SUKKUR: The first time, Shahida* felt like her body was being clawed upon by vultures. She was 15 then and new to the red-light area of Sukkur.

Since that first interaction Shahida feels like she has lost ownership of her body. “That day I lost everything, my ego, my self-respect…This body is now public property, it’s like a public bathroom, which people use and pay for.”

She was cheated from an early age. Shahida was 14 when her brother-in-law sold her to a pimp in Lahore’s red-light area, Heera Mandi. The teenage girl, hailing from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, was resold to another pimp in Hyderabad within a few days.

Clueless about sex, Shahida* ran for her life when the pimp sent in her first customer. “I knew nothing about sexual relations until that man started touching me,” she said. Devastated at how she had been treated, Shahida immediately ran out of the house.

“The pimp came after me and forced me back to the brothel. When I refused to go with the customer, I was locked in a room for three days without food or water,” she said, while talking to The Express Tribune at her residence in Qasimabad market, a red-light district of Sukkur.

On the third day, a Pakhtun boy from a nearby hotel brought some dough and a glass of water and passed it to her through a window grille. When he brought it again the next day, the pimp caught him and thrashed the boy. She was again denied food and water. “I needed to get out of the room and succumbed to the pressure,” she said. When one of her customers Ghulam Ali* proposed, Shahida saw it as her chance to break free from life in the red-light area. Ali and Shahida got married, but the wedding bliss was short lived.

Three months into their marriage, Ali brought Shahida to Sukkur and rented a house in the red-light area. “My dreams were shattered when my husband brought me to Sukkur and forced me into prostitution. Once again, I did not have a way out and started selling my body. I have hated every minute of my life.”

In the 25 years Shahida* has been in the profession, she says she has never seen a girl come to the bazaar at her own will.  Most of the girls here were either kidnapped or cheated by their lovers, she said.

Shahida said there used to be around 100 houses when she first came to the area and the majority of women in the district used to earn their livelihood by dancing and not prostitution. But then the police raids started and many women were forced out of the area, she said. “Now that prostitution is not confined to one place, brothels have opened up all over the city. However, the police never raid brothels in other areas because it gets its due share,” she alleged.

Ghulam Ali died four years ago and now Shahida lives with her two sons, who are both working and studying. “I married off to my daughter and she is now happily living with her husband,” she said. She has now quit the profession and is dependent on her sons’ meagre earnings.

Everyone has their reasons for selling sex. “It is very easy to criticise women like us, but nobody looks into our souls… yes, we are sinners, but our life is like an open book,” she said.

 

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (51)

  • ABC
    Jan 14, 2012 - 10:59AM

    This was indeed a very sad story. Imagine yourself kidnapped and forced to sleep with strangers. God knows what emotional crises she went through before finally giving up.

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  • abdul moiz
    Jan 14, 2012 - 11:08AM

    why are only prostitutes condemned? why not the men visiting them? why aren’t the men subjected to the abuse,insults that these ladies are subjected to? double standards are all the rage in our hypocritical society.the wives,fiances,girlfriends cursing prostitutes should curse their husbands and brothers as well who visit these ladies.the hypocrisy must end.
    if our society says that these ladies are bad and sinful then it should with equal force condemn the men as evil and sinful also.

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  • Jan 14, 2012 - 11:59AM

    Why is Tribune so fond of writing such pieces?Recommend

  • imran khan
    Jan 14, 2012 - 12:18PM

    im totally speechless and ashamed that how the women are treated in my country…………Recommend

  • Def
    Jan 14, 2012 - 12:19PM

    Brothel house is separate thing for making a profession but what about those girls and boys who do it with their own will?. We all can comment on such posts but we cannot act on it because we all are into the same thing. Police cant even stop it because of the law passed few years later and they are involved in it too.
    If you want to stop such things, put ISLAMIC LAW properly implemented like Saudi Arabia, Iran, but for that you have to spend restless nights.Recommend

  • waqas ahmed
    Jan 14, 2012 - 12:19PM

    awww please…..express tribune and its literal fetishes.

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  • Arooj Faheem
    Jan 14, 2012 - 12:19PM

    We people always stress on what happens, but never work out the solutions. Similarly, we like to comment upon the “socio-realism” that engulfs us all, yet never try to get in to the skin of things to understand them. Shame on us!

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  • Zeeshan Ummaid Ali
    Jan 14, 2012 - 12:27PM

    Life is an open book, great, still you dont get to do prostitution..

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  • Nazi
    Jan 14, 2012 - 12:39PM

    Upset reading this .. !

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  • Major Usman
    Jan 14, 2012 - 12:44PM

    There is something drastically wrong at the ET…..please let me know if you require help in digging up stories of interest….the story though reprehensible yet offers nothing new…start working out there you ET story tellers wala’s…..!!!!!

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  • Awais
    Jan 14, 2012 - 12:45PM

    Such a sad story, not a story but a reality. I wish our Government could do something about this menace.

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  • Major Usman
    Jan 14, 2012 - 12:47PM

    @abdul moiz: Have a heart you seem to be right out of the Women Liberation Movement ….so as they say charity begins at home….why dont we see a Sex Workers piece written by you on the MEN who frequent these joints…?????

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  • Major Usman
    Jan 14, 2012 - 12:51PM

    @ABC: Please don’t go overboard with the sympathy carnival you want to take out ….the lady was sold by her brother in law…that means she was married before she was sold…yet her first experience of sex came with a customer….!!! oh blimey….the husband was either impotent or Mr. Sarfaraz Memon the author of this epic literary piece of so called article got his basics wrong….!!!!! Or there is some aspect of this article I was unable to decipher….couls someone help me…?????

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  • Jan 14, 2012 - 12:53PM

    Well said, Abdul Moiz. Can’t agree more.

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  • sick of this nonsense
    Jan 14, 2012 - 12:58PM

    @Shahid Khan:
    Because they are eye openers about social evils that we all turn to a blind eye

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  • Romeo
    Jan 14, 2012 - 1:24PM

    ET please stop publishing waffle!

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  • Heba Ahmad
    Jan 14, 2012 - 1:27PM

    Very well written, it is great that you guys are highlighting such issues, some people really need to be aware of such issues, this is the reality of our country and the curroption level, and sadly it does not only happen in Pakistan but all over the world. I am proud of a women like Shahida who has taken the courage to speak about her sad life, it is not easy to speak about these issues and Shahida is just one example, there are a million women like that who are in a similar boat due to these horrible men out there and all men do is use and abuse. Its pathetic but once in that cycle of things its very hard for one to leave and men in that business will make sure of that and i totally agree with Abdul Moiz, that these ladies are not at fault, the men are who deal in such activities and encourage this business even more. There should be laws put into place for such activities especially in Pakistan – being a Muslim country but instead it is encouraged especially by the politicians who actually are one of their main clients.

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  • Mard-e-Haq
    Jan 14, 2012 - 1:34PM

    Well, a country that prides itself as an Islamic Republic with Sharia laws has some of the worst injustices perpetrated on its citizens. Forcing women into prostitution, running a brothel are contrary to any laws, esp Divine Laws.

    It’s the same with other self-styled Islamic nations. There are roving brothels for the super rich in Saudi Arabia and many young girls in Iran (mainly students) turn to prostitution to survive.

    And of course: Sharia Laws are only applied to the poor.

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  • Jan 14, 2012 - 1:43PM

    Why is Express Tribune publishing such things…to get foreign visitors or what…our culture does not like these things to be published openly…Publishing such things does not make us liberal.. ET I request you to pay attention to other stories like other dangerous crimes in the country like Balochistan etc..

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  • Navaid
    Jan 14, 2012 - 1:43PM

    This is very much true. Mostly girls are cheated and sold out for handsome amount.
    It is our duty to highlight their problems and discourage the people who visit them.

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  • ali baba
    Jan 14, 2012 - 1:45PM

    They criminals and victims at the same time

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  • Ruhina Hashmi
    Jan 14, 2012 - 1:49PM

    You dont seem to be good at English now do you, Major? Brother-in-law doesnt just mean dewar, jaith n stuff. It can also mean BEHNOI. Meaning husband of sister … Goodness! @Major Usman:

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  • owais
    Jan 14, 2012 - 1:53PM

    @Major Usman:

    i think you are unable to read. brother-in-law is her sister’s husband, there is nothing in the article to imply that she was married before being sold of.Recommend

  • Major Usman
    Jan 14, 2012 - 1:57PM

    @….Heba Ahmed..the main thrust of the consumers of the flesh trade are not the politicians it is the daily wages earner who ids living in the big city away from home…it is the truck driver and his like who roam city to city it is the soldier who lives away from home…the politicians use such women but they do not form part of their bulk consumers….as far as the Ladies in question being at fault point is concerned we should bear in mind that it is a simple question of Supply and Demand…if the demand dries up the supply will end…but there is faint hope of that happening till the day of judgement…so do your work and speak for your self leave the rest to Allah Almighty who knows who is doing what and stands where in the comity of the people of the faith.Recommend

  • Hassan Abbas
    Jan 14, 2012 - 2:07PM

    O my God, is it a good society we are living in? Fie upon us. And yes “it is true that it is very easy to criticize anybody but nobody looks into the soul”. The overall purpose and essence of this story is to teach us to eradicate such heinous deeds from the society. It is a saying that “Good people are the only responsible for all bad deeds in the society, because why not they prevent bad people to perform such deeds”.Recommend

  • Major Usman
    Jan 14, 2012 - 2:09PM

    @Ruhina Hashmi: I stand corrected …your observation though a little impertinent may be true…the omission is highly regretted please and any anguish caused as a result of it is highly regrettable.I believe you now that it may be true her sister’s husband sold out the lady….interpreting relations was never my forte…by the way what was the lady from KPK doing with her brother in law at Lahore ( HEERA MANDI ) where she was sold…? there is string attached to this story which I fail to phantom…maybe you with your vast reservoirs of English Ruhina Hashmi may be able to discern that for uneducated men like me..?
    PS. when can you start giving me lessons to improve my ANGREEEZIIII….???

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  • Major Usman
    Jan 14, 2012 - 2:14PM

    @owais: the point has been acknowledged in my reply to the lady above you ..please forgive my Greek…..and your implication that I cannot read is utterly wrong if not outright ridiculous because if that were true I would not be replying to someone like you whose only kick in life is from reposting things on the Web..Recommend

  • Ishrat Salim
    Jan 14, 2012 - 2:23PM

    Though this is sad….but it is a reality all over the world & not confined to our country alone. Having said that…women in Pakistan is not only subjected to this old proffession by default but also poverty…we hear lot of more wild atrocities on our women folks subjected on them by feudal & tribal chiefs & unjustices by the ” jirga members ” citing these as part of their ” culture “…is this permitted under Islam…??

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  • Major Usman
    Jan 14, 2012 - 2:31PM

    @Ruhina Hashmi:
    ‎’Truth is treason in an empire of lies.’ R. Paul

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  • Ali Hassan
    Jan 14, 2012 - 3:20PM

    Alas..!! Its easy to criticise but no one probes into the matter.. There hundreds and thousands of such cases… we hate them for the profession they themselves don’t like, and have adopted not at their will. But then there ain’t any solution of such vultures kidnapping and forcing innocents into life full of sins and misery…

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  • Jam
    Jan 14, 2012 - 4:04PM

    Who says this female worker is solely responsible – Its the people around her, the society & the circumstances.

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  • adeel
    Jan 14, 2012 - 4:11PM

    Why do we end up talking about shariah whn it comes to women? for soem reason we equate Shariah = womens pardah….. bt the people who have knowledge Shariah means inshAllah end of corruption…. End of Corrupt people who sell their wives….When the funds will be distributed to the poor females like her will not need to go into prostituition inshAllah. Shariah law will reduce all crimes inshAllah,,, evn if it cnt finish all of thm because Satan is open enemy to man.
    As for Prostituition atleast by law we dont force women to go in to prostituition….. In German A female who is jobless and get a offer from a brothel (its legal) has to accept it otherwise her unemployment benefits will be cut…… this is the women liberation society we want to immitate????? ( as for germany google any top uk newspaper for this news,.)
    Salaam. only ppl with knowledge know tht Islam is the Solution weather u like it or not. salaamRecommend

  • hameed
    Jan 14, 2012 - 4:28PM

    hats off to ET for mentioning such cases. i think we want easy escape from facing the bitter ground realities which are happening in our societies. one thing i can say for sure that we will pay for these injustices and discrimination sooner or later.

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  • Akhtar Jamil
    Jan 14, 2012 - 5:51PM

    The story does not end here. The number of sex workers increasing exponentially and most of them are forced to become professional in this area. I think, government should pay attention towards issues of general masses instead of blaming each others.

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  • pakistani
    Jan 14, 2012 - 5:53PM

    @def
    what do you think of iran and saudi arabia … the thing you are talking about happens more in saudi and iran. Just go once to these places and broaden your horizon of thinking. Get your facts straight before you suggest changes based on them. Secondly our society in pakistan is totally messed up where talking to different sex is a taboo what frustration level do you expect men to have in the society. Recommend

  • pakistani
    Jan 14, 2012 - 5:58PM

    @Major Usman
    Please consult the dictionary before you comment. Brother-in-law can be a “behnoee” as well. The problem is our people never care about the weight of their arguments in a temptation of negating the others’. Our Army officers should be first time right in their thinking/decisions and they are not expected to make similar mistakes elsewhere !!

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  • Faraz
    Jan 14, 2012 - 9:30PM

    @Malik Hussain:
    This is a social evil and must be pointed out/highlighted. And what do you mean by “our culture does not like these things to be published openly” So our culture allows men to do this in the dark?? Evil must be pointed out. The culture is flawed and the people are hypocrites if it doesn’t allow societies to discuss/highlight such serious issues. How can people even think like that in these modern times, we are not living in medieval times, physically not, but morally we still are.

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  • Khadija
    Jan 14, 2012 - 11:56PM

    @abdul moiz:
    I agree with you wholeheartedly. Blaming the woman is easy because it is she who loses something that can never be returned. Men are supposed to protect women, not abuse them in this way. And the sad part is that even if she approaches the police for help, ot only will she be scorned but returned or thrown back out on the streets. The thing is, that women have no value anywhere. To most men, they are there to be used for their sexual needs, and to breed. When a girl turns of marriageable age, it is she who is scared because we don’t want to end up living under a cruel master, because that is how husbands tend to look at wives. As their personal slaves. Not everyone, but 99.9% do.

    Instead of arguing about Veena Malik and all that useless crap, out government should pay more focus on theses sort of issues, to help our nation in itself, to offer confidence to women. Because we have nothing. We grow up, get married and serve men. And I’m not saying this to be sexist. It’s true. The men who come and use the woman, why shouldn’t they be blamed. You’re absolutely right.

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  • Anam
    Jan 15, 2012 - 12:05AM

    @Malik Hussain: I think it’s brave and real of ET to report on such issues. We need to talk about these issues to improve the social conditions of Pakistan. Talking about these issues has nothing to do with being liberal or progressive; it has everything to do with creating public awareness and taking action to stop such things from occurring. I advise you, Mr. Malik Hussain, to broaden your mind a little bit.

    @Major Usman: “brother-in-law” does not necessarily mean that the woman was married. It could be the husband of her sister who sold her as well. I also ask you to be a little more sympathetic and less judgemental about this issue. Stop blaming the victim. I don’t see you being upset with the brother-in-law, who SOLD her into the sex trade. You asked what the girl was doing at Heera Mandi with her brother-in-law – she very well could have been forced to go there. Please think before you write something.

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  • Khadija
    Jan 15, 2012 - 12:24AM

    @Malik Hussain
    You’re a guy aren’t you?
    Pakistan is our country. It’s problems are the problems of it’s youth, aka, us, you, me, all of this generation. Tourism isn’t really our priority right now, but these social issues, this abuse of women is. SO grow up. What tribune is posting is not useless, it’s fact. We NEED to be aware of our problems so we can try to fix it..Recommend

  • I Khan
    Jan 15, 2012 - 1:33AM

    @Shahid Khan:

    because it is a legitimate issue that exists. We can’t just deny and keep ignoring it.

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  • Amna
    Jan 15, 2012 - 4:29AM

    Unfortunately this exists in our society, and nothing has been done to stop it, I mean why would there be action taken to shut down such a hideous deed when the whole society is corrupt. As for the girl now a woman, it is upto God to decide who is a sinner and who is not. She may have done something wrong, but she were forced into it, and she had no choice. The sinner is the man who sent her there. You’re heart is pure as an angel. I hope someone actually does something about improper treatment of women in this country.

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  • Amna
    Jan 15, 2012 - 4:35AM

    @Malik Hussain:
    Is this not a crime? Is this not as bad as the situation in the whole country let alone Balochistan? I’m glad ET published this, so that there is awareness for the mass, this is an important issue that needs to be dealt with. It’s not about being a liberal country, it’s about opening up the brains. This is happening in OUR country, in YOUR country, bashing it, isn’t going to make the problem go away. Recommend

  • Amna
    Jan 15, 2012 - 4:44AM

    @Major Usman:
    The issue is right infront of you, it’s upto you how you perceive it, regardless of how the author wrote it. What is the message he’s trying to get across? She already new? Open up your minds Pakistan, being so narrow minded isn’t going to get you anywhere.

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  • khuhiali
    Jan 15, 2012 - 1:23PM

    gud piece of research,its a fact that women in our country are treated as an entertainment for males,no body looks at their miseries,and the pain they suffer.women are just a toy and sex object.

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  • khuhiali
    Jan 15, 2012 - 1:24PM

    @Major Usman:
    u r right 100%

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  • Major Usman
    Jan 15, 2012 - 2:03PM

    @Amna: Lets be honest about this issue…….what did anyone of you do apart from just sitting on your haunches and merrily typing away….? Plz save your tears for something you really can and want to change…don’t fool others or yourself…..been there , seen it and know your ilk too well…..!!!!!

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  • Ali Rizvi
    Jan 15, 2012 - 10:43PM

    In Pakistan prostitution should be legalized and regulated.

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  • Major Usman
    Jan 15, 2012 - 10:51PM

    @Ali Rizvi: Charity begins at home…start off with the registrations buddy…..!!!!!!

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  • Amna
    Jan 16, 2012 - 7:59AM

    @Major Usman: Why am I not surprised to see that our nation is having difficulty to agree on an issue so crystal clear. What did I do? What did anyone do? What did you do? Is this seriously the time to start pointing, to start arguing? Why can’t we accept that there is a problem which needs to be dealt with instead of bringing about a conflict? I’m sitting here merrily typing away trying to get people like you understand that this is a major problem. This is ONE nation, you belong to the same country I do. I want to change this, we need to start somewhere right? Why is this nation so narrow minded? Why oh why?

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  • Amna
    Jan 16, 2012 - 8:06AM

    @Ali Rizvi: I’m sad to even read that you’d say prostitution shall be legalized. Like they say ” yeh tou apnay pehroon par khud khulari marnay kay barabar hay,” this is exactly what you’ve said.

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