Although the middle-class has grown in Pakistan, nearly one-quarter of the population is classified poor as of October 2006. The girl child faces greater risks to survival, is more subject to violence and abuse, and has less access to education, proper nutrition and health services. The low status of children and women is a manifestation of low literacy levels, wide gaps between legislation and enforcement, and limited participation in civil society.
This brings us to the taboo topic of prostitution. We say that slavery has vanished from European civilization, but this is not true. Slavery still exists, but now it applies only to women and its name is prostitution (Victor Hugo). Who is a prostitute? According to the dictionary meaning, one who solicits and accepts payment for sex acts. A prostitute (tawaif, also called hooker, whore, hoe, street walker, sex worker or escort) is a person, most of the time a woman, who has sex with people for money.
Some countries have made prostitution illegal. Even still, some countries like Netherlands have made the same act legal and give licenses to people working under this profession.
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.
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