Promiscuity and licentiousness have become a way of life in contemporary Kashmir. According to a renowned academician, prostitution has assumed alarming proportions in the entire Valley.
The arrest of a photographer from Islamabad town recently reflects the deterioration the society has undergone. The contemporary Kashmir can be compared to the Kashmir of Subhan Hajam’s times when prostitution was legalised.
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 had truck with the prostitutes and the influential people involved in the trade. Subhan Hajam was manhandled several times by the goons but the mission continued unabated. Finally, Subhan was arrested. A case under section 36 of the Police Act was filed in the court of City judge. The FIR reads, "The accused was arrested for addressing people at Maisuma. He was telling them not to go to prostitution centres. The assembly caused traffic blockade and subjected the people to inconvenience".
Subhan Hajam pleaded not guilty and told the court then chaired by Pandit Bishember Nath that he had taken people to a side and had not created road blockade.
"Does this act of mine invoke the provisions of section 36 of the Police Act? I have been telling the people to refrain from immoral practices. I have been stressing need for character building", Subhan pleaded.
The learned judge acquitted Subhan for want of sufficient proof. The case was filed in the court on 15 Sawan, 1991. Subhan never looked back and published number of pamphlets in Urdu and Kashmiri. Commenting on spread of prostitution in Srinagar, Subhan Hajam says in his pamphlet Hajam ki Fariyaad, "The government takes me very lightly and does not extend cooperation to me. Had the government helped me suitably, the prostitution would have been eradicated by now. The government must take my reports and statements seriously. It will go a long way in eradicating this menace".
In the same pamphlet he further says, "I have faced problems from various quarters. Vested interests tried their best to sabotage my mission but Allah the almighty helped me and I stood like a rock. I have been told that the courts do not award proper punishment to prostitutes. This will encourage the practice once again. When a person is arrested for prostitution, I approach the respectable persons of the locality and get their signed statements, which I have been submitting to the authorities. However, I have been told that some vested interests have been telling the authorities that I extort money from the people. I am more concerned about my mission. Such cheap methods and false allegations cannot deter me from pursuing my mission". There is no date on the pamphlet. It appears that it had been written when the government was seriously considering a ban on prostitution.
Subhan was pained by the presence of three prostitution centres at Maisuma. Once he said, "There are three prostitution centres in Maisuma. One is at Takia (Gaw Kadal), second is in a tailoring shop and the third near a liquor shop. These centres enjoy the patronage of the goons in the area".
Subhan further said most of the women involved in the trade were Bhungies (sweepers). ‘They change their names and sit in a prostitution centre. This relieves them of the hard work of sweeping the roads and the lanes", he said.
Subhan Hajam 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 an impact.
In his memorandum, Subhan suggested framing a list of the pimps, who according to him, were to a great extent responsible for the spread of the menace. Subhan says, "A big and strong group is always associated with the prostitutes. We call them Dalay (pimps). They are criminals involved in serious offences. If a list of the pimps is framed and called for questioning at regular intervals, the crime rate will also come down. These people marry women and then sell them for a hefty amount in big cities like Lahore, Kolkata, Peshawar, Mumbai, Karachi and Delhi.
Subhan Hajam further suggested ban on use of Burqa (veil) by the prostitutes. "When the prostitutes use veil, the life of chaste women becomes miserable. Unless a prostitute proves that she is no longer involved in the detested practice, she should not be allowed to use veil", he suggested.
In his memorandum, Subhan made clear that his campaign was purely apolitical.
"We have nothing to do with politics. But the authorities are invoking laws on us meant for political activists. This is being done with a purpose. The authorities want us to give up our campaign but that cannot happen", he made clear.
When this memorandum was submitted, the government exonerated the singers (female) from tax. Subhan strongly resented it. He said it would encourage prostitution as most of the female singers worked as sex workers in hotels and houseboats. The campaign continued for several years. Subhan Hajam 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.
Soon after the ban, Subhan came to know that two hotels in Lal Chowk, one owned by a Hindu and the second by a Muslim were involved in prostitution. Subhan wrote to them and warned them of dire consequences in case the trade was not stopped immediately. "I warn you to stop the detested trade immediately otherwise I will publish your names in a poster and expose you".
The threat had the desired effect.
Similarly, Subhan came to know that some women in Buchwara and Dalgate areas were running brothels. Subhan published their names in a pamphlet and the brothels were closed down.
Subhan was critical of the role of the press. According to him, the editors had sealed their mouths in lieu of a handsome consideration which they received regularly from the prostitution centres.
Today prostitution is not legalised but the prostitutes, pimps and sex workers enjoy official patronage. The people who came out to fight the menace were booked under the draconian public safety act (PSA). And, with politicians, ministers, bureaucrats and police officials involved in the detested trade, the society desperately needs another Subhan Hajam.
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