Professor Fida Hassnain
Prostitution as an institution has excited in Kashmir since ancient past. Kalhana, the historian has censured some of the kings like Kalasha, Kshemagupta, Uccala and Harsha for patronizing prostitutes, paramours and courtesans. It was Sultan Sikander who is reported to have banned prostitution, in his sultanate. However, this institution received inpetence during the Mughal occupation of Kashmir. Naming Kashmir as Baag-i-khas or the special garden, they used the Valley as a pleasure garden to entertain their guests in the Mughal gardens. Secondly, it became a practice, during their era to obtain the Kashmiri beautiful girls for marriage with Subhedars, Mansabdars and nobles. The Afghan period in Kashmir which started in 1753 was the worst period in this regard, when the Kashmiri slaves, both women and men were exported to Kabul.
In 1846 the then British Government in India, basically a trading company sold the Valley of Kashmir for Rs. 758 lakh to the Dogra Maharajas. As such, their first area was to recover that money from the naked, hungry and suffering Kashmiris. During the rule of the Maharajas (1846-1947) everything, save air and water was taxed. Robert Thrope and Walter Lawrence have provided us with information on taxes which include Khutna or circumcision fee and prostitution tax. The sale of young Muslim girls in Kashmir to established houses of ill-fame was both protected and encouraged by the Maharaja, because it costed only 103 rupees to obtain this license. The Dogra Maharajas not only supported but encouraged the institution of prostitution at Governmental level, as it brought then the much sought over money in the form of Kanjur tax.
The sale of Kashmiri girls was a profitable business venture for low caste people known as Kanjur among the Muslims. This class of people worked as agents for supply of girls for the red lights cities outside Kashmir, such as Quetta, Peshawar, Lahore, Delhi, Lucknow and Calcutta. In Srinagar city, the red light area of Maisuma, Gawakadal and Tashwan, were most prominent.
In 1867, Arthur Brinkman, in his work – the Wrongs of Kashmir, indicted the government of the Maharaja, for patronizing prostitution in Kashmir. In 1868, Robert Thrope wrote that the Kashmiri girls were being forced into prostitution by the authorities with the idea of earning more and more revenue from licensing the flesh trade. A survey made by the Church Mission Society in Srinagar, revealed that during the years 1877 to 1879, the total number of patients treated with venereal diseases, recorded in the Mission Hospital comes to about 12,977 cases. Under directions of the British, the Maharaja’s government conducted a survey which revealed that there were about 18715 licensed prostitutes carrying flesh trade in the Valley. The number of Kashmiri prostitutes outside the Valley in various cities of Northern India comes to more than sixty thousand.
The fourth Dogra ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh ascended the throne in 1925. Unlike, his predecessor, who was an orthodox Hindu, the new ruler was highly emancipated and modern. He encouraged compulsory education among the masses. He also introduced some reforms in taxation but did not abolish the prostitution tax and as such flesh trade thrived as usual in the early years of his reign. The political awakening ushered in after 1931 upheaval resulted in the ressurengence of the Kashmiri Muslims in the every sphere of its society. This awakening resulted in the emergence of several political leaders in the State, but none worked moral uplift of the Muslim society.
Mohammad Subhan Hajam is a Kashmiri icon, a reformer, a social activist and a visionary who succeeded in mobilizing public opinion for eradication of prostitution in Kashmir and succeeded in his mission during his life time. He owned his saloon near the present day Lal Chowk, Srinagar. Despite his meager income and frail physique, he was equipped with great moral courage to face all challenges.
In the first place, he composed poems in Kashmiri and Urdu, against prostitution, which was eating the vitals of the society. In his verses, he hurled insults and taunts on the pimps and prostitution. In his poetic compositions, termed as Hidiyat-Nama or guidelines, he exhorted the people to remain away from the brothels. He wrote that these prostitutes are the main source of disturbing martial relations as well waste of money. Mohammad Subhan Hajam also compiled pamphlets, drawing attention of the Maharaja’s government towards this menace which had engulphed people in venereal diseases. He appealed to the Maharaja to take serious notice of this malady and impose ban on it. These Hidayat-Namas were published in the local press. Secondly, Mohammad Subhan Hajam would meet religious leaders, influential people in the civil society and officials and seek their support in his mission. He would impress upon them to put pressure on the Maharaja in one way or the other. Thirdly, he himself comes forward picketing in the red light areas. He would lead a group of people, mostly young men, singing his poems and raising insulting and derogatory slogans against the Kanjars and Kanjaris.
Khwaja Mohammad Subhan Hajam was terrorized and attacked several times by the pimps and goons employed by keepers of the prostitution dens. In order to suppress his voice, several false cases were instituted against him in the courts of Srinagar. All these attacks on him were spearheaded by a rich and influential red light area chief known contemptuously as Khazir Gaan, his name being Khazir but Gaan or prostitution den holder. He would corrupt police officers to seek vengeance on Mohammad Subhan Hajam. But all these intimidating attacks could not succeed to bow down the crusader, who had now succeeded in winning the hearts of all sections of the society – Muslims, Pandits and Sikhs. He even received support from the Church Mission Society and Rev Tyndale Biscoe, the doyen of education in Kashmir.
It was Molvi Mohammad Abdullah Vakil, who raised the issue in the Praja Sabha in 1934 and proposed exacting of a law for the closure of prostitution houses in the State and ban on the flesh trade. In fact, he had raised his voice against this vice on behalf of Mohammad Subhan Hajam, who had succeeded in mobilizing support of the elite in society in his mission. Even the leaders of the Muslim Conference, came forward to help him by inviting the attention of Maharaja Hari Singh to issue orders for the ban of flesh trade in his State. Even the Viceroy of India asked the Maharaja to provide him detailed information, about the flesh trade in Kashmir.
In view of the landable efforts of Mohammad Subhan Hajam, the Maharaja issued orders banning sale and purchase of women in the State and closure of red light areas in Srinagar as well as Jammu. He even ordered deputation of two Police officers to find and repatriate Kashmiri girls from the red light areas of Rawalpindi, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta, Delhi and Lucknow.
The name of Mohammad Subhan, the great luminary of Kashmir, will be remembered in history for all times to come. He is a Kashmiri icon who single harded freed the State from the menace of prostitution. He is one amongst the heroes of Kashmir, and we Kashmiris are proud of him.
- Fida Hassnain. Hindu Kashmir.
- Arthur Brinkman. The Wongs of Kashmir.
- Robert Thrope. Kashmir Misgovernment.
- G.M.D. Sufi. Kashir.
- Council Proceedings 1928-1943. State Archives, Jammu.
- Zahir-uddin. Bonquet.
- Sabnam Qayooms. Kashmir-ka-Siyasi-Inqilab.
- H.U. Salati. A Voice called Subhan Hajam, <greaterkashmir.com>
- Mohammad Subhan Hajam. A Barber’s Revolution, <www.covertmagazin.com>