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Background Information of Floating Sex Workers in Dhaka City

Brothel is the oldest profession, and the existing of selling female sex for the gratification of males is also one of the oldest vices in society (Joarder, 1984:12). Among the reasons behind the beginning and sustaining of the profession, the subordination and weaker position of women in the socio-economic structure of society can be assumed as most significant. The profession could not sustain unless there was any demand from the males. Again, throughout the history, economic interests led conflict, war, and conquest that in many respects paved the way to women’s subjugation, forced sexual exploitation, and labeling as sex workers class. The religion had also contribution to make brothel a silent custom in the name of temple brothel, devdasi, etc (Joarder 1984). In this subcontinent brothel was recorded in public and personal records. Khan and Arefeen (1989) mentioned about Report of the Census of Bengal, 1901, Census of India, 1911, the works of Joarder (1986), personal diary of Dewan Raja, etc. Khan and Arefeen found the inclusion of sex workers as ‘unskilled labor, not agricultural’ or ‘indefinite and disreputable’ or in miscellaneous column. After the partition of India, government of Pakistan continued the decennial census but avoided the inclusion of sex workers. But it was increasing over time and many towns or nearby places have ‘Patitalaya’ (brothel) in erstwhile East Pakistan and Bangladesh. Among them, the brothels of Narayanganj, Ishwardi, Daulatdia, Tangail, Natore etc, were relatively well known. In the colonial period there were many brothels in Dhaka city which was cause of various crimes like murder, robbery and snatching. People who were addicted of opium, marijuana involved with these crimes (James Tellor, Topography of Dhaka city, 1840).
In another study we found that in the 18th Century Dhaka there was increasing number of sex workers which were four times higher from its earlier number. They were lived in the buildings at the main roads. This study also said that it was rare to find building which did not have sex workers.
In the Hunter ‘A Statistical Account of Bengal’ that conducted in the 1875 showed that there were many women who were involved in varied professions including 1738 sex workers (Hunter, 1875). In that survey mentioned that compare to other regions like Mymensingh and Bakerganj this number was lesser.
Studies showed that perception and status towards ‘bessay’ were being changed in line with changing societal structure and increasing rate of education among the men of colonial period. Though the rates of educated males with non agricultural jobs were increasing but there income was not alike the land lord called ‘Jamindar’. We may get an idea in the history that the reasons of ‘static’ or ‘identified’ brothels being lost. In the Raj Narayan Basu’s writing it has highlighted how new form of middle class ideology was being shaped in contrast of earlier feudal culture regarding polygene. In the beginning of ninth century number of new ‘babu’ were increasing and the number of ‘bessa’ were also increasing but attitudinal changes were being held due to educational intervention in the society. In once where ‘among the affluent it was prestigious to go at the room of ‘captive lady but with the increasing rate of western education among the males which did not accept such attitude. This was also cause of pushed them how to have extra marital sex with keeping it secret.
If we see in the recent cases of demolishing of some static larger old brothels in Bangladesh the main issue were ‘this is unsocial’ and ‘ we do not want to spoil our children by keeping such in our society’( Weekly 2000; November 2009). Tanbazar, Narayanganj was an oldest and big static brothel established in the 1888. When it was demolishing there was 3,500 sex workers. Alike Kandu patti, an old brothel once which was also formed at the lake side of Dulaikhal, an old part of Dhaka city. This was also demolished in the 1990s raising same issue as mentioned earlier.
Attempt of eviction of these small and big brothels began in late 70’s, without any planned rehabilitation or following any socially secured policy. As a result, the brothel spread in larger areas and took varied means. After the eviction of many brothels the evicted sex workers were bound to float or roam here and there for clients and thus, the ‘floating brothel’ became a popular form in the world of brothel. So it can be said that the eviction of many brothels and many other social circumstances is responsible to the birth of floating brothel. In Bangladesh the higher concentration of floating sex workers is in Dhaka City, because of its urbanization and industrialization. Dhaka city in recent context became the center on practicing floating sex workers brothel.