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.