Banned yet legal

Following arrest of a former National Conference Legislator and a Doordarshan anchor last week, a Jammu based newspaper published a front page story titled `Kashmiri prostitutes lead sex trade in India’. The newspaper quoting police sources said that the sex trade in India has surpassed annual revenue of Rs 50 billion, and Kashmiri prostitutes who include male and female have led the Prostitution business across the Country for several years. (SIC). The story further says that all the big names in the prostitution business hail from Jammu and Kashmir especially Valley.  "Fair girls from Kashmir are a craze among the elite. Many such women also command their own rackets in different parts of the country and in Jammu and Srinagar as well and their earnings go in crores".

Pertinently Jammu and Kashmir is the only state in the sub-continent where prostitution is legal. According to the Public Prostitutes Registration Rules, 1921, a prostitute can carry on her trade legally if she registers herself with the District Magistrate. She has to fill in a simple application form, file it in person and pay Rs 5 as fee, and the minimum money which she can charge is Rs 15.

The Government admits that the rules are still in force and could be invoked. Sanctioned by the Darbar of the then Maharja Partap Singh  vide Chief Minister’s letter No 17197, dated February 12, 1921, these rules were first published in Government Gazette of the same year. The rules define a public prostitute as ”a woman who earns her livelihood by offering her person to lewdness for hire.”

The rules also allow for the role of a brothel keeper and define him or her as ”the occupier of any house, room, tent, boat, or place resorted to by person of both sexes for the purpose of committing sexual immorality.” Official added. However, the brothel keeper has to ensure that he does not keep the prostitutes who are not registered with the Government. Though the State tries its sex offenders under the Prevention of Immoral Trafficking Act (PITA) and the sections of its own Ranbir Penal Code, the rules of 1921have not been repealed. The rules are still published in J&K Laws, the State’s statute book.

While the legislators hailing from Valley owe an explanation to the people of Kashmir for their shameful silence over the rules that legalise prostitution in the abode of saints, the people showed their prudence by fighting prostitution twice in the past seven decades. The story carried by the Jammu newspaper is incomplete in the sense that it makes no mention of the fight against prostitution. These campaigns make Kashmir unique for being the only place in the region to resent the flesh trade. During Dogra rule, a barber from Maisuma, Muhammad Subhan Hajam fought it single handedly and succeeded in getting it banned.

Elderly people say, Subhan Naayid would appear with a dholak (drum) and amid chanting of slogans (which he himself carved out) would urge people to refrain from going to prostitution centres.

This activity was strongly detested by the police, the government and the goons who enjoyed the patronage of the prostitutes and the influential people involved in the trade. He was manhandled several times by the goons but the mission continued unabated.

 The bold barber tried his best to muster support for his campaign against prostitution and succeeded to a large extent. He took care to involve people from all schools of thought. He persuaded seven hundred people who included a good number of Pandits and Sikhs to submit a memorandum seeking ban on prostitution to the then district magistrate, Srinagar. The memorandum had a great impact on the government.

The campaign continued for several years. The state was reluctant to ban the detested trade as 25% of its income came from prostitution.  He had to face number of problems but he was too determined to give up his mission. And, finally one day, the prostitution was banned in Srinagar. Subhan thanked the then district magistrate for eradicating prostitution from Srinagar.

The second campaign was launched by Dukhtaraan-e-Millat Chief, Aasiya Andrabi seven years ago. She founded the Forum Against Social Evils (FASE) and fought promiscuity, waywardness and prostitution. Many of her colleagues were jailed for the noble job.

Apart from these organized campaigns, the people rose against the vice on their own following expose of the Sabina scandal. The people registered protest, took out processions and demanded stern action against the people involved in the racket. The High Court took cognizance and published a list of persons involved in the detested practice. The list identifies some of the top bureaucrats of the state as well. The state failed to take action against them for obvious reasons.  

The Legislative assembly is scheduled to meet shortly. The legislators from Kashmir must rise above party considerations to get the rules repealed.

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