1991-11-11 00:00:00

Members and supporters of the Unislamic Activities Resistance Committee (UARC) gathered Oct. 25 near two brothels in Taan Bazaar and Tatipara, red-light districts in Narayanganj, 30 kilometers southeast of Dhaka, to evict the enclave´s 8,000 prostitutes, some as young as 10.

Hundreds of police, including some of the city´s highest public officials, guarded the brothels and prevented them from being entered by demonstrators.

The threat of eviction followed a Friday prayer service and heated debate between rival groups of hoodlums and toll collectors linked to the brothels.

Rita Khanam, 24, a spokeswoman for the prostitutes, says the trouble started when the women refused to "pay cash and provide free services" to the Islamic group´s leaders.

Jahangir Alam, a former Jatiya Party (party of deposed President Hossain Mohammad Ershad) member and one of the leaders of the UARC, was reportedly a patron of the prostitutes and made large amounts of money from the brothels.

Many claim that those who lead the UARC have a vested interest and to satisfy their grudge are using religious-minded people to get their way.

"Many of the UARC leaders were our regular clients and some of them were our patrons during the Ershad regime," Khanam said.

Prostitution is not banned in Bangladesh, but the peculiarities of the business are such that no brothels officially exist.

Musclemen are employed by the owners of the buildings to "protect" prostitutes from clients and to make sure the business runs smoothly and the women, who have been bought and paid for, do not leave.

In 1985 a 14-year-old girl was sold to a "sardarni" (an older woman in the management of a few prostitutes) in a Taan Bazaar brothel. She was tortured to death when she refused to become a prostitute.

Many child prostitutes were rescued then and many brothels throughout the country were closed down.

While members of UARC are determined to evict the prostitutes from the brothels located in the heart of Narayanganj city, the prostitutes are prepared to resist any force to evict them.

Khanam told UCA News, "We want to live here until proper rehabilitation programs are worked out."

Many agree that eviction will not improve the situation, but only cause prostitution to spread throughout the city.

The UARC´s eviction attempt has caused a drastic reduction in the prostitutes´ income over the past two weeks. "We are starving," they said.

Khanam said that every prostitute has a sad story. "We all came to this profession after being victimized. In prostitution, we are exploited by local influentials, police, courts and clients," she said.

In Bangladesh, prostitutes receive an "affidavit" provided by the courts, but they do not have a license.

The police and administration are aware of the illegal activities that take place in and around brothels, but they are controlled by local influentials in collaboration with national level politicians.

"At the national level, politicians take an interest in brothel management, because prostitutes are needed during elections, and brothels are used to shelter underworld criminals," said an informed source.

Organized prostitution in Bangladesh, particularly in Dhaka and Narayanganj, is over 200 years old. Historically, the "zamindar" (landlord) culture is associated with women entertainers and prostitutes; the wealthy extended their patronage in sustaining prostitution.


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