Tag Archives: tawaif

Stories of sex-workers in Heera Mandi, Lahore and beyond

Posted by Raza Rumi

A TV journalist prepared this bold documentary for a news channel but it was never aired for obvious reasons – electronic media remains conservative about taboo subjects. The documentary provides great insights into the way women live, work and identify themselves as sex-workers in Lahore’s oldest red-light district known as Heera Mandi (Diamond Market) ironically next to the great Badshahi mosque. Coverage of Multan in the later parts is also interesting.

The narrator obviously has his biases – the usual refrain of middle class Muslims of the subcontinent – but he tries hard to remain neutral and investigative. There is a good dose of Mujras inserted into the series for the viewers; and tit bits of the Hollywood/Bollywood melodrama on the oppressed ‘tawaif’ (prostitute). Whilst tragedies bring these women to the sex-trade, not all of them lament their lives. If anything, Mirza Ruswa’s Umrao Jan (way back in the nineteenth century) was pretty comfortable and empowered by her profession. Similarly, one of the interviewees says: “money is the father, mother and everything for tawaifs”. The head of Kanjar biradri says that girls are taught to be ‘men’, earning ‘horses’ fooling their clients! Not to be missed.

My favourite is the ‘client’ who confesses how intoxicating it is to be “in love” with a sex worker. One gets tired of ‘using’ a wife all the time he says. Wish this documentary had been aired.

The language of these videos is Urdu so it might not be accessible to all the visitors here.

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