Battered, Bruised And Alone
She walks down the dark alleyways in the early hours of the morning. Drained and half dead, edgy and nervous, wrapped in a sheet of cloth half covering her face, the corner of which she holds in her teeth. Her breath still has the stench of alcohol she was made to drink last night and her face lightly bruised.
Walking briskly to avoid the attention of the early morning police constables standing by the corner, heading towards a shanty town in the midst of Karachi, she is Abida aka Kiran, a sex worker aka prostitute from the “lower class” in Pakistan.
This is the story of her life – that of a Pakistani prostitute. I wanted you, our readers, to have a dual perspective of the sex trade in my country so I decided to narrate the stories of two women in prostitution – at the top and bottom end of the ‘business’ in a two-part series. While the characters are fictitious, they represent the class structure of my country, with the full range of vices and virtues injected, to give you as full an understanding of their lives as possible.
The Little Known Story of Prostitution In Pakistan – Part One
Abida aka Kiran, 26, lives in a dark dank mosquito infested house in a narrow street on the famous Lee Market in Karachi.
Most of the residents of the area are connected to the sex trade in one way or another. Shabbily dressed men with beetle-stained teeth stand on the corners, hunting for clients to take home. Streets filled with children of the prostitutes and clients looking for fun. Filth flowing through the open drains, hawkers selling inedible products teaming with flies. Multi-story buildings house many families of prostitutes in a community system where everybody is related even distantly.
Totally divergent to the rest of the Pakistani society, this is perhaps the only place where a family lauds the arrival of a girl and make faces when a baby boy is born. Every room of the decaying buildings is a total mess except for one on every floor, a room decorated for all the “Razias” of the Lee market to entertain the clients as soon as the sun goes down.
Brought Not Born Into Prostitution
Razias were not born here (like so many others in sex trade). She is a product of her circumstances. She was born in a poor farming family deep in the rural community of Sindh, a province in Pakistan. She started working as a maid in relatively well-off households of her area as a child.
One of her distant relatives approached her father, offered him a job for her (as a maid) in the sprawling metropolis of Karachi (a common practice in the area). Reluctantly, Abida’s father agreed. Thus began the torturous transformation of Abida to Kiran (her name as a prostitute).
Her journey began on a local train from her village, reaching Karachi late in the night, accompanied by her distant relative. She had dreams of better days in her eyes. She hoped to send some decent money back home to support her family and marry her childhood sweetheart one day.
Abida was taken in a rickshaw to a strange neighborhood where she could hear the sound of music in every house they went by. Confused and scared, she was guided through a labyrinth of narrow streets to a dark decaying house. Abida was received by an old woman in screaming make-up. This strange-looking woman argued with her relative for sometime after which he left with some money from her. Abida was led to a room and asked to “take some rest” and was given food.
She was dead scared by the strange smiles and whispers of her new hosts. In the evening, she was sent new fancy clothes to wear and the old woman adorned her with some cheap ornaments.
Holding Abida by her arm, the old woman paraded her into a room filled with men of awkward appearances and greedy eyes. She was making her first appearance on the ‘market’. Just in an hour, she was sold for the most expensive night of her life to an old fat ‘Seth’, who paid 50,000 Rs (a little under US$500) for her virginity in a formal ceremony called “Nuth Khulai,” a term used when a virgin is initiated into prostitution.
The following morning her world all but collapsed around her, her dreams chattered and her future ruined. She was formally Kiran, a painful transformation from the innocent Abida to a sex worker. From then on, the world is sliding gradually for this new Razia. She would be forcibly trained in vulgar dance steps and made to entertain clients till midnight. She would be booked (off or on premises) for the night to someone willing to pay the prevailing market price for her.
Abida was told that her relative was paid 100,000 Rs (a little under US$1000) and can leave as soon as she repays her buying price. She would be subjected to violence whenever she resisted and made to have sex with as many as four customers a night. Now, at just 18 years of age, Abida is looking like a 35 year-old woman after her arduous two-year journey in the sex trade.
A perpetual story of misery, exploitation and helplessness.
She may never marry or just have a token marriage to cover the children she will eventually have with the clients due to unprotected sex. Abida will be made to get pregnant with the most handsome of her clients to make sure she has a “good-looking” offspring. That is how it works in prostitution in Pakistan and in these parts.
One day Abida may be able to go back to her village and see her parents and siblings. Maybe. For now, her life is governed by a strict order in the social hierarchy of prostitution where an older prostitute (the matriarch), the one heading the brothel, dictates the norms. The young girls of the brothel can never break the social code and would stay her property for the rest of their lives.
For all she knows, the rest of her life will be in this vicious circle of sex trade and pimp exploitation. Sleeping through the day and waking through the night to be bruised and battered by her often drunk clients. The circle of life would come full only when she dies.
Neelma Tashfeen brings a different flavour to the banquet here. She is freelance writer with a Master’s degree in English Literature and a Bachelor’s degree in Education, Neelma lives in Islamabad, Pakistan. Subscribe to follow up with this series on prostitution and be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2 – conversations about the sex trade and the women selling it and a look at the children caught in sex trafficking in the USA by Katelyn Roth.
Did you read Neelma’s most recent post, “A Peek Into The Daily Lives of 3 Pakistani Women?” Check it out here. She also joined two other Contributors and shared her thoughts on “Wanted: A Man To Pay The Bills.”