KARACHI: “Poverty and hunger makes hapless women do anything,” Baloch journalist Aziz Sanghur comments in a video documentary, Inside The Brothel, that captures the lives of Pakistan prostitutes on camera.
“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 of prostitutes in the length and breadth of the country.
Countless brothels dot the landscape of this country of more than 170 million, mostly Muslims. Hira Mandi in Lahore is the No. 1 red-light area, followed by Napier Road in Old Karachi, Sanghur's documentary reveals.
One of the first prostitutes 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 prostitute. He said most of the prostitutes 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 prostitute 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 prostitute 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.
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 many, female sex workers are being educated on taking precautions against AIDS among prostitutes.
Dr. Aftab Ahmed, NGO Coordinator at the Sindh AIDS Control Program, tols Sanghur his office works closely with non-profit centers to create awareness among commercial sex workers. “We tell them how you [prostitutes] can stay safe and keep 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.
Most of his documentaries are world class as they touch upon subjects that are rarely discussed in the mainstream Pakistani media -- and barely 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.
Pakistan prostitutes are mainly from the Punjab, which is also the stronghold of Pakistan military – the fourth largest in the world and one armed with nuclear weapons. Many Pakistani generals and soldiers are believed to be prostitutes' sons.
Sanghur's documentaries have dealth with exotic stories pertaining to green turtles, seagulls, mangrove forests and honor killings.