May Issue 1994
From the Archives: The Other Side Of Midnight
If you are a young man on your own driving a car or bike in the Clifton area or around the Quaid-e-Azam’s Mazaar in the evening, chances are you will at some point be flagged down by a teenaged boy ostensibly hitching a ride. If you oblige, the young man will direct a barrage of questions at you:
What do you do? Where do you live? Do you stay alone? and other queries of this nature. A similar situation is likely to arise if you are a young man walking around the busy Saddar area or Tariq Road alone after dusk. A good-looking youth will accost you, ask for a match, the time or an address. If he receives a positive response, he will strike up a conversation. If you respond, he may ask you to share a cup of tea or a cold drink with him in one of the sidewalk cafes.
Emboldened by an affirmative answer, he will then throw at you the bottom line: Where do you want to take me? and How much kharcha paani (money) are you offering? If you agree to the transaction, within the next few minutes he will be accompanying you to your residence or some obscure hotel room.
Male prostitutes today ply their business in almost every city and major town of Pakistan. Across the country, in dark alleys, in open streets, at crowded bus stops, at shopping centres, in cinema halls, hotel lobbies, parks and railway stations, in the compounds of educational instititutions and hospitals, and sometimes even in the elevators of public buildings, boys and young men — professional prostitutes — stalk their prey. They operate with thorough professionalism and a sharp eye for potential clients: they can zero in on a customer in a crowd of ‘straight’ men at a single glance, and the entire transaction, from making initial eye contact to cutting a deal, takes barely five to ten minutes.
Male prostitution is by no means a recent phenomenon in this area. The famous British explorer, the intrepid Sir Richard Burton, who visited Sindh long before the British conquest, found a brothel of boy prostitutes in Karachi soon after he anchored there.
The business has flourished since then and today certain areas in the bigger cities of the country have become virtual red light areas for gay sex, with male rather than female prostitutes plying their wares. Their clients come from every class, community, age group and profession. They include businessmen, industrialists, feudal landlords, politicians, artistes, drivers, police and army men, labourers, clerics, teachers, journalists, writers and tourists, with the latter ranking among the prostitutes’ most valued customers. Says one female prostitute, “Increasingly, male prostitutes offer us as much competition as other women.”
Eighteen-year-old tall and handsome Farrukh, who could be a member of any local contemporary pop group, operates from the vicinity of a famous shopping mall on Tariq Road, and has a good thing going. He prefers to ‘conduct business’ in the backseats of his client’s cars rather than going to their houses because “this way Farrukh’s business hours range from 6 p.m., to about 9:30 p.m. after which he is usually seen in the company of certain local policemen with whose ‘support’ he has plied his trade for the last four years.
Farrukh recalls his initiation into the profession. As a class eight student fond of video games, Farrukh would frequent a shop in the neighbourhood where the shopowner, Shafiq ‘Bhai,’ who was always very friendly, would give him tokens on credit. Once Farrukh owed the man as much as 70 rupees. “Our father was very strict and abusive and I was hardly given five rupees a day as pocket money,” he says. One day Shafiq Bhai took Farrukh to an apartment belonging to a bachelor friend. “Once we were there, he tried to pull off my pants. When I protested, he threatened to tell my father about the money I had borrowed from him. So I submitted to Shafiq Bhai’s demands. After he had had his way with me, Shafiq Bhai gave me a 100-rupee note,” he recalls.
“This first experience was kind of weird and painful, but within less than half an hour I had earned 100 rupees — 20 times my daily pocket money. After that I could play all the video games I wanted free of charge, and would, moreover, get bonus money from Shafiq Bhai and his bachelor friends in exchange for favours granted.”
Farrukh’s relationship with Shafiq Bhai didn’t last very long as the latter also kept several other boys for the same purpose. But the pattern of Farrukh ‘s life had been set. From his class monitor to a teacher in school, from a young man in his neighbourhood who taught him how to ride a motorbike to a local musician from whom he tried to learn singing and dancing, he imbibed all the homosexual practices required of a male courtesan. And there were other perks too. “At the age of fifteen I was familiar with whisky and pornographic movies courtesy my patrons,” he says.
Once Farrukh was apprehended by a group of drunken policemen looking for trouble late at night. They beat him until he told them his name, address and profession. “They then took me to their quarters and gang-raped me, following which they demanded that I ‘work’ for them or they would throw me behind bars and tell my father.”
It was this fear of his father which turned Farrukh into a full-time prostitute. Now, this son of an alcoholic contractor from Abyssinnia Lines sports a gold chain around his neck, buys expensive gifts for his girlfriend — his own sexual preference — and owns a motorbike. On average, Farrukh makes 500 to 600 rupees from three to four hours work a day. Out of this, 200 rupees go to the police as bhatta. Sometimes, he says, he works with the police, blackmailing unsuspecting clients.
At times the policemen also present him as a ‘favour’ to their homosexual seniors. This is apparently routine procedure. Often police officials also smuggle boys into the various jails across the country to service select inmates. Says an insider, “Jail officials and guards regularly supply male prostitutes for the entertainment of influential or favourite inmates with homosexual leanings.”
Roshan, a 16-year-old boy from Larkana, was kidnapped and sexually assaulted by a group of criminals at gunpoint a couple of years ago. The gangsters who raped him also took photographs of him in the nude. “They warned me not to squeal on them as they had my pictures,” he says.
After that they could have me whenever they wanted. They would sometimes give me money and told me that I could even ask their friends for money in return for sexual favours. Roshan thus became a prostitute. Ever since he was driven out of his house in Larkana, Roshan has been operating in Karachi.
“Assaulting boys and then photographing them in the nude is a common way of trapping boys in the criminal homosexual underworld,” says a sociologist. The perpetrators are not ordinary homosexuals, but habitual criminals.
Many male prostitutes have a history of being sexually abused at an early stage in their lives. In fact, every ninth or tenth boy in school or at local madrassahs or even at work, is sexually molested. But he never reports it to his parents out of fear that they will blame him rather than the perpetrator, says another sociologist who has worked with abused children.
Shahzada Kabir, 23, is an unusual case. He is the scion of a nawab family of a former princely state and once studied at the Petaro Cadet College. He left home after his father’s death a few years ago because of a property dispute with his stepbrothers. I had to spend many nights in public parks and was seduced by vagabonds, he recalls. That is how I entered this business. Today, Shahzada Kabir is a highly paid prostitute charging 2000 rupees a night whose regular clientele includes foreign sailors and tourists. He spends his summers in the northern areas and winters in Lahore or Karachi.
Male prostitutes of Shahzada Kabir’s class, however, are an exception in this profession. Male prostitutes generally come from the lower middle class and are forced into prostitution because of poverty, says a sociologist. But sometimes, domestic compulsions also contribute to boys becoming prostitutes.
One such case is that of a19-year-old male prostitute, Hamid, who belongs to a middle class background and has a homosexual father. My father ruined his business by squandering his money on a long line of male prostitutes, many of whom were closer to my age than my fathers’ and who, subsequently, became my friends, says Hamid. I had sexual relations with these friends of my fathers’ and they would pay me for my services.
There is also another category of male prostitutes: second generation ones. Many of the local male prostitutes are themselves the sons of local prostitutes, says one prostitute.
A survey conducted by Neusline indicates that a large number of the full-time male prostitutes operating in the various areas of Karachi are runaways. But there are also many part-time male prostitutes — ranging from schoolboys to salesmen to workers in hotels and garages — who prostitute themselves on the side for extra money, clothes and gifts or for other favours such as jobs, a role in a stage or TV play or a film. Says a restaurant owner: I can never forget the shock I received when I caught a waiter in my restaurant having sex with a class seven student. The student said he needed money for textbooks.
Male prostitutes in Pakistan usually range from 15 to 25 years of age , but a few of them are in their early 30s while some are as young as 13. Prostitution is a short-term profession — there is an age limit, says a retired prostitute.
The older you grow the domestic compulsions also less you’re worth. One successful pimp, however, maintains that he has men in their early thirties working for him and earns at least 6,000 rupees a month from them.
Like their clients, male prostitutes vary in ethnic origin, belonging to all the four provinces, as well as Afghanistan, Iran and the Far East. Large numbers of Iranian and Afghan refugee youths entered the prostitution trade in Quetta, Peshawar and Karachi in the wake of the upheavals in Iran and Afghanistan.
Some prostitutes are educated boys and young men — undergraduates and sometimes even graduates, Most, however, have bad little or no education at all and have been led into the profession by unemployment, Prostitution earns them between 5,000 to 7,000 rupees a month. Those whose clients are foreign tourists and marines staying in five-star hotels manage to make a lot more. Many of the boys who prostitute themselves do so to supplement their families’ earnings. Some of them even manage to save enough money to go abroad in search of a job.
The lowest strata of prostitutes are those belonging to very poor families, and they cater to men from similar income groups, “These boys, in fact function as ‘wives’ of poor men who cannot afford to get married,” says a sociologist. Such men include waiters of fleabag hotels, semi-impotent elderly men, drug addicts, night watchmen, coolies, petty criminals such as pickpockets and on occasion even beggars.
“My problem is simple: I can’t afford a call girl or a female prostitute,” says a watchman from the NWFP who often employs the services of male prostitutes. “I can get boys for free, or just 15 to 20 rupees.” Abdul Makrani, a cinema gatekeeper reveals, “All I have to do to get a boy is to let him into the cinema free of charge.”
“My pimp charges about 150 rupees from each of my clients for hardly half an hour of my time,” says a Pathan male prostitute. “Of this, 70 rupees go into the hotel owner’s pocket, 30 to the police in the area and 30 to the pimp who pays me barely 20 rupees. I manage to earn between 200 to 250 rupees a day only by taking on 10 or more customers. This is why a lot of boys like me would prefer to run their own business.” Another boy explains why this is not always possible. “Most of our customers don’t want to go through a pimp. But our pimps and the hotel owners harass us a great deal and the police are with them, so we don’t dare mess with them.”
Indeed, a lot of boys are frequently picked up by policemen who use them without payment. In Karachi and Hyderabad many pimps and male prostitutes act as informers and false witnesses for the police and the CIA.
The pimps of male prostitutes are themselves mostly former male prostitutes, drug addicts, malshis (masseurs) and unemployed old men who have finally hit upon a lucrative way to make a living. Some of them also pimp for female prostitutes.
Then there are others who pose as prostitutes, but are, in fact, professional criminals. “They accompany their client to his house or hotel room and then rob him of all his cash and other valuables by threatening to raise an alarm,” says a police official.
Many male prostitutes operate from around the city’s affluent areas where their clients are mostly businessmen, bureaucrats, waderas, parliamentanans and politicians, foreign tourists and marines. Hoshi, 24, is one prostitute whose clientele is mainly from the guest lists of five-star hotels. Foreign tourists coming to Karachi are put in contact with Hoshi through a flesh trade network. As soon as the price and modus operandi are agreed upon, Hoshi arrives at his client’s room. There are other male prostitutes too who scout around for clients in the lobbies of five-star hotels in the city. Another male prostitute in Karachi, meanwhile, owns a beauty parlour and simultaneously pimps for call girls.
The busy Saddar area in Karachi is one of the city’s key pick-up points for male prostitutes. “At one time at least four hotels in Saddar used to serve as brothels for male prostitutes” says one source. Even now, every night, the sidewalks from United Bakery to Hotel Greenland in Saddar become a prostitution site. Many malsbis operating on sidewalks or available on request through hotel staff are also often gay prostitutes. Empress Market and its surrounding areas are said to have been hotspots for the business even in pre-Partition days. “But it reached its present level of notoriety when people from upcountry started settling here,” says an old Karachiite. “These migrants would have to live away from their wives for months, sometimes years, and found this enforced celibacy unbearable. Male prostitutes thus fulfil their need for a sexual outlet. In fact, many of the companions they choose are boys from their own areas who have also come to Karachi in search of jobs.
Adjacent to and underneath the overhead bridge in Empress Market in Karachi is a thriving prostitution bazaar.
The area teems with male prostitutes and their clients from early morning to late at night. “No boy, even if he’s clearly straight, can stand around here without being propositioned,” says a schoolboy. “We are often stopped when we pass through here and harassed by all sorts of sleazy-looking characters. A number of school-and-college-going boys are actually lured into the trade in this manner. “We can make a decent amount of money through prostituion,” admits one schoolboy who succumbed to the temptation. “For just one or two sessions a week, I earn between 800 to 1,200 rupees and sometimes even 1,500 rupees a month.”
The police recently unearthed a brothel of male prostitutes in a hotel near the Larkana railway station. Ironically, the brothel was being run by a police official. Its inmates comprised mainly young boys from the surrounding areas of Larkana and the interior of Sindh. Most of the boys worked under pseudonyms, usually names of Pakistani and Indian film actresses, and sported the mandatory mark of the job. “Just as many gays in the US wear rings in their ears, the trademark of the male prostitutes of Larkana are ornate henna patterns on their left palms,” says one worldly-wise homosexual.
Crowds — at bus stops, buses, exhibitions , etc — are male prostitutes’ favourite pick-up points, where contact is first made by the eye or a subtle touch. “I catch my shikar from among the crowd surrounding any tamashawala, palmist, quack, or thelawala in Saddar,” says one middle-aged homosexual who frequents male prostitutes. “If I find a boy to my liking, I either stand behind him or ogle him.”
Many prostitutes prefer to operate from hotel rooms rather than accompany clients to their residence, because in the latter case they run the risk of being assaulted or even robbed of their belongings. “One is totally at the customer’s mercy at his place, and he can do anything he wants to us,” says a male prostitute working in Saddar. “But sexual deviance or sadism happens only rarely. It is only the criminally inclined who indulge in such practices.”
Sometimes, however, the hunter can become the hunted. A middle-aged homosexual says: “Many prostitutes are in collusion with the police, CIA or other agencies. This is how they operate: a well-dressed, good-looking boy will make overtures towards you, gesturing provocatively, beckoning… if you respond, he will begin to walk along with you. After a short while he will lure you into a deserted alley where you will be intercepted by a couple of plainclothesmen. They will claim to be police or CIA men and will start to rough you up; they will also pretend to rough up the boy as they ‘question’ him. He will immediately tell them that he was being taken by you for sexual purposes. After a show of frightening the boy, they will let him go and ask you to accompany them to the ‘police station.’ On the way, as you plead with them to release you, they will extort a bribe ranging between 500 to 1,000 or even 2,000 rupees from you, depending on your financial status. Mission accomplished, they will let you go.”
Accounts by a number of victims indicate that there have been instances of this kind of blackmail in virtually every area where male prostitution exists. And often the plainclothesmen pretending to be policemen are complete frauds.
On the whole, however, prostitution flourishes without interference by the authorities. In affluent areas like Clifton, Defence, Tariq Road Bahadurabad and KDA, upper and middle class homosexuals cruise around in their cars on the lookout for male prostitutes who frequent select pick-up points such as video game shops, small restaurants and cold drink spots. In busy areas like Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Sabzi Mandi, Kharadar, Lea Market, Landhi, Malir and Lyari, meanwhile, less well-heeled homosexuals look for less expensive partners in a somewhat different fashion. “You can buy a boy sometimes for a whole night, the price of a meal or a ride on your motorbike;” says one gay man. Clients in areas comprise mainly bus drivers and conductors, night watchmen and labourers from upcountry, army and policemen, low-income government officials or private servicemen, small-time Memon businessmen and those who come to the city for business trips and sometimes get lonely on longer stints.
Following General Zia’s clamp down on the flesh trade in the early ’80s, clients of male prostitutes and visitors to their brothels comprised mostly faujis on martial law duty.
The world of male prostitutes and their clients is like a secret society with an entire underground culture since those involved cannot come out of the closet because of the social and religious barriers. Like ‘fallen women,’ homosexuals are condemned and ostracized.
Many full-time male prostitutes say they were thrown out of their homes when their parents learnt about their source of income. “My brother caught me with one of my clients,” says 17-year old Shakil, a prostitute who operates from the PIDC area. “Then he had me thrown out of the house, despite my mother’s protestations.”
Others maintain that their families turn a blind eye to their profession because they are dependent on their income from the trade. At least 10 male prostitutes hailing from poor families in southern Punjab and the NFWP reveal that they supported their families, sending them monthly checks by money order. But generally families of male prostitutes are blissfully ignorant of their profession, primarily because the boys take great care to avoid discovery. “We don’ t usually get caught because we try to work far away from home and avoid telling our clients our real names and addresses,” says Amjad, one of a group of male prostitutes operating in Gulshan-e-Iqbal.
But in this society male prostitution is sometimes less risky than female prostitution. A group of bachelors sharing underground culture since an apartment in a middle-class neighbourhood in the city bring boys to their apartment every weekend but nobody has yet objected or even cottoned on. “Formerly, this apartment was rented out to a bachelor who would bring women over, but the neighbours raised a furor so he was thrown out,” says Wasim, a member of the group.
Little do the neighbours know, however, that two members of the group not only bring male prostitutes from outside, but also have relations with some of the boys in the neighbourhood.
Interviews with 49 male prostitutes and their clients in Karachi and Hyderabad ranging in age from 14 to 40 years and with diverse professional backgrounds (from a mullah to a university teacher, journalist, a TV producer and even a peasant) reveal that very few of them take seriously the threat of AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases. The general response of most of the educated ones was: “We don’t care. Life and death are in the hands of God. AIDS is a problem of the west and that is why they are raising such a hue and cry about it.”
But most prostitutes have never even heard of AIDS. “Have you ever heard of anyone dying of AIDS in Sindh or even in Pakistan?” asked one male prostitute naively. Asked if they practiced safe sex, the typical response was; “Are you joking?” This despite the fact that many of them admitted to having suffered from one sexually transmitted disease or another at some point which they had either treated with antibiotics or simply ignored. Of the 49 homosexual prostitutes and their clients interviewed, only three said that they used condoms. One of these three, fearing that he might be HIV positive, had himself tested and found that he was not. An anthropologist-sociologist from the interior of Sindh, however, fears that a large number of homosexual in rural Sindh, where homosexuality is quite common, may already be infected with HIV. “But in the absence of any survey or medical research, nothing can be said for certain,” he says.
There is only one young man among Karachi’s urban community who not only publicly confesses to being gay, but also works among groups of homosexuals and male prostitutes in the city, distributing condoms and literature on homosexuality and AIDS which he has had translated from English into Urdu. But the effectiveness of one lone crusader against a tide of ignorance remains anybody’s guess.
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