When a branch of government gets involved in proselytising, it can set a dangerous precedent. This is why the decision by the Peshawar High Court to order that a woman accused of running a brothel attend religious classes at a mosque, every day for a month, is cause for concern. At the very least, it raises several key questions: one, that would this not set a precedent for other similar cases; two, that the woman was not convicted of any offence and three, does such an arrangement qualify as adequate condition for bail under existing law?
The Peshawar High Court’s directive reminds one of the vigilante actions of the students of Jamia Hafsa in Islamabad some years ago. Students from the seminary, located in the heart of the federal capital, took it upon themselves to become the moral police of their neighbourhood. They kidnapped Chinese women and accused them of being prostitutes and they did the same with local women also. In fact, one of them was subjected to a ‘court’ inside the seminary and handed down a ‘guilty’ verdict and asked to repent in quite the same manner as in the above-mentioned case. This stand-off was one of the main catalysts for the confrontation that followed eventually between the seminary and security forces in 2007.
The world’s oldest profession is called as such for a reason: there is always demand for such activity and it would perhaps, be better to understand why in a country like ours, it is there. In fact, it would be fair to say that prostitution is found in just about any country and in most cases, it has an economic, as well as exploitative aspect to it. Economic factors will change over the long run, ie, when standards of living and incomes rise across the board and this, in turn, is dependent on a government’s macroeconomic policies. However, a particular response from a government can be to check the exploitation and trafficking in women, which is one of the key reasons for prostitution. Those who back and patronise this activity — and they are usually men and in many instances, well connected to those who control and work the levers of power — need to be arrested and prosecuted.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2012.
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