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Bangladesh Authorities Shut Down a 200-Year-Old Brothel, Evicting Hundreds of Sex Workers

Ariel view of Kandapara brothel in Taingail, a northeastern city of Bangladesh. Image by Ranak Martin. Copyright Demotix (1/12/2012)

Aerial view of Kandapara brothel in Tangail, a northeastern city of Bangladesh. Image by Ranak Martin. Copyright Demotix (1/12/2012)

The 200-year-old Kandapara brothel in Tangail, one of the oldest brothels in Bangladesh, was shuttered on July 14, 2014. Tremendous pressure from local Muslim clerics and politicians supposedly led to the brothel's closure, but the national platform of sex workers of Bangladesh has accused local authorities of land grabbing under the guise of religious piety.

More than 759 prostitutes were evicted as a result. Residents were only given a few hours’ notice, human rights organizations have protested. The Facebook page of women-centered publication “Women Chapter” says that the evicted sex workers are now facing uncertainties and living in unsafe environments.

Sociologist Laura Agustín tweeted how the sex workers were evicted:

Twitter user ATM Zakaria warned:

Eviction of sex workers without rehabilitation is a threat to the society and nation.

Mogoje Curfew (Curfew in the brain) wrote on Sovyata (Civilization) blog that these sex workers did not join the profession willingly, but out of hardship or coercion. The blogger wrote what will happen to the sex workers without rehabilitation:

এই লাঞ্চিত এবং অমানবিক জীবন যাপন করা মেয়েগুলো কি করবে তা আমরা না জানলেও অনুমান করতে পারি । তাদের বাইরে কোথাও কেউ কাজ দেবে না এটা নিশ্চিত থাকতে পারেন । বাধ্য হয়ে এরা এইবার এদের খাবার জোগাড় করবে মানুষের বাড়ি বাড়ি গিয়ে ।

We can guess the future of the evicted sex workers who are oppressed. They will certainly not get any work out there. They have to beg from home to home to feed their mouths.

The Kandapara brothels sprung up from 1860 to 1880 as traders arrived on commercial vessels. They had both time and money and were sex workers’ main clients. The total population was until recently about 2,000, including sex workers, their children, some parents, babus (fixed lovers/permanent clients), pimps, and landlords.

It's not the first brothel to be shut down and its workers evicted in the Muslim-majority country, where conservatism is on the rise. On July 23, 1999, the Tanbazar brothels, one of the oldest and largest, were closed down and about 2,600 sex workers were evicted from their homes. Dhaka's Kandupatti, home to several thousand sex workers, was next. Then it was Magura. Last August, attacks were carried out on the Madaripur brothel and homes of approximately 500 sex workers were vandalized and looted.

Members from Sex Workers Network of Bangladesh (SWNOB) form a human chain in Dhaka protesting attack on sex workers in a brothel in Madaripur. Image by Shafiqul Alam. Copyright Demotix (29/8/2013)

Members from Sex Workers Network of Bangladesh (SWNOB) form a human chain in Dhaka protesting attack on sex workers in a brothel in Madaripur. Image by Shafiqul Alam. Copyright Demotix (29/8/2013)

The general understanding is that religious and social pressures were behind the eviction in Tangails Kandapara. However, Sex Workers Network, the national platform of sex workers of Bangladesh, said in a press conference on July 17, 2014 that the local mayor harnessed religious sentiments to grab the 302-decimal land of the Kandapara brothel.

Similar accusations were made after the eviction of the Tanbazar and Madaripur brothels. The people behind the eviction denied the allegations. They claimed that the brothels are source of criminal activity.

Sex worker formed human chain at front of press club in Dhaka protesting the eviction of Kandapara brothel, Tangail. Image by Mohammad Asad. Copyright Demotix (20/7/2014)

Sex workers formed human chain at front of press club in Dhaka protesting the eviction of Kandapara brothel, Tangail. Image by Mohammad Asad. Copyright Demotix (20/7/2014)

Bangladesh is one of the few Muslim-majority countries were prostitution is not officially banned. Prostitution can be found in the old history of Bengal, but this profession never had any legal recognition, including during the British colonial period. In 2000, a local court recognized the profession in a verdict. 

In Bangladesh, there are 18 registered brothels and around 200,000 sex workers across the country. A recent study revealed rampant child prostitution.

Kazi Mamun Hossain, a diaspora Bangladeshi blogger, wrote on Bangla blogging platform Somewhereinblog:

পতিতাবৃত্তিকে নিষিদ্ধ না করা আবার পতিতাবৃত্তিকে স্বীকৃতি না দেয়ার মতো রাষ্ট্রযন্ত্রের দু'মুখো আচরণের তীব্র প্রতিবাদ জানাই৷ কোনো প্রকার পুর্নবাসনের ব্যবস্থা না করেই পতিতাদের উচ্ছেদ করার তীব্র প্রতিবাদ জানাই৷

I condemn the duality of the state in not banning the prostitution, but also not upholding sex workers rights. I strongly protest eviction of the sex workers without rehabilitation.

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