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Prostitution is sometimes called the “world’s oldest profession”. There have been stories of it in almost every culture and society. In the times of the British Raj, this act was considered respectable. The ‘tawaif’ of then was rich in etiquettes and principles. The focus was greatly on the singing and dancing. It was pure innocent entertainment. Rich nobles’ from all over the land would send their sons to these tawaifs, so they could learn manners and poise. Over the years, the innocent entertainment got side-tracked and a new generation of prostitutes emerged, who lacked the abilities to sing and dance and were only interested in making money for livelihood by selling their bodies.

After the partition in 1947, Pakistan inherited the historical red-light districts in Lahore and Multan including the infamous Hira Mandi and Shahi Mohalla area. These were well-developed areas and attracted both wealthy clients and those looking for singers and actresses. These set of people are very particular about their caste system. Those having knowledge and skills about the music and dance are called ‘mirasi’ and those who indulge in sexual activities are called ‘kanjars’. It is a great honor for a mirasi to marry in a pure mirasi family and a kanjar to marry in a pure blood of kanjars.

Pakistan is an Islamic country. Islam strictly prohibits the sex-trade due to the declaration of extramarital sex as an illegal activity. Prostitutes in the country, thus, operate underground and in spite of the legal difficulties, and contrary to popular belief, prostitution is thriving in the country. In Pakistan, prostitution was once associated with dark alleys and small red-light districts. Now, it is fast seeping into many neighbourhoods of the Muslim state’s urban centers’. It is time for all of us to admit that prostitution is doing a roaring trade within our own borders.

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