A homeless sex worker with her four-year-old son on the yard of a brothel, now closed down, in Madaripur. She is one of over 400 workers who have been evicted from the ages-old brothel recently. Photo: Zyma Islam
The eviction of around 400 sex workers from a Madaripur brothel by an Islamist organisation unravels a mystery of grabbing the land on the pretext of safeguarding the town from sins.
Hundreds of activists of Islamist organisation “Islahe Qoum Parishad” along with the influential quarters evicted the sex workers from the brothel on August 27 to purge the town of sins.
“The motive behind the eviction is to grab the nine-bigha land worth around Tk 70 crore,” said Mamata Rani, one of the seven madams (leaders) who used to run the brothel, and supervise the sex workers inside.
The major portion of that land belongs to the seven madams, who claimed that they had inherited the 160-year-old place.
Situated in the middle of the town's business hub, the brothel is encompassed by the oldest market in the area.
Some of the leading members of the Islamist organisation own shops right across the brothel.
They had been hatching a conspiracy to grab the land for long, said the madams, who are currently staying inside the brothel.
They added that the vested quarters had been successful this time.
Jamal, one of the members of the organisation, himself owns a shop just a few steps away from the site of the brothel.
A sex worker, who is hiding in the town, identified Jamal as one of the attackers.
She lamented that the very people who had sought her company before snatched her only means in their own narrow interests.
Jamal, however, brushed aside the allegations brought against him while talking to The Daily Star correspondents.
Islahe Qoum, which means “purification of soul”, was formed one and a half years back to evict the sex workers, said Monir Uddin, an activist of the organisation.
Sharif Mujibul Haque, a self-proclaimed pir (spiritual leader) at Shah Madar mazar, has been leading the organisation.
Interestingly, the pir, who wants to cleanse the soil of Madaripur from sins, has a previous record of land grabbing.
He had built his own house on a piece of land grabbed from a Pal family before the Liberation War in 1971, said a close relative of the pir on condition of anonymity.
Locals, therefore, call him "Pal Hujur" to refer to his previous misdeeds.
Besides, allegations run rife that different political forces also played a significant role behind this eviction.
Shipping Minister Mohammad Shahjahan Khan, at a programme at Madaripur circuit house on August 16, asked the organisations working for the rights of the sex workers to stop their activities, according to a rights activist of PIACT Bangladesh.
Contacted, the minister justified his stance, and said different projects run by the human rights groups would further limit the sex workers' world to the brothel instead of rehabilitating them.
"The sex workers are gone. Allah has saved us all," Shahjahan added.
The madams said they could not become hopeful about getting any help from the police. They claimed that the law enforcers had delayed reaching the spot on the day of eviction.
"It takes just 10 minutes to come here from the police station ... they did not arrive until the damage was done," said a madam.
Khondoker Faridul Islam, superintendent of police of Madaripur, however, claimed that law enforcers had been deployed as soon as they came to know about the incident.
Earlier, Islahe Qoum gave an ultimatum to the brothel insiders to vacate the land by August 31.
The High Court issued an order on July 22 asking the law enforcers to let the sex workers continue their occupation for a year.
Meanwhile, the sex workers came under attack four days before the ultimatum expired.
(Madaripur correspondent contributed to this report.)