A neighborhood in the inner Lahore, Pakistan that is associated with music, dancing and sex trades is called Hira Mandi.
There are two argument on the origin of the name of the place. Some believe the area was named after a minister in charge of this district in the late 18the century. The minister, Hira Singh, during the rule of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, renamed the Shahi Mohalla (the Royal Bazaar) in his name – Hira Mandi.
But, others argue that the the place was a Diamond Market (Hira means diamond in Urdu) during the early 13th century at the time of Sultan Qutbuddin Aybak people used to call the dancing girls ‘diamonds’. Hence, the Shahi Mohalla is called Heera Mandi (the market of diamonds)
There is a very little written records of the area. People have believed it to be a taboo subject and a lot of the details is passed along generations.
A book, Taboo – The Hidden Culture of a Red Light Area, by a Pakistani sociologist, Fouzia Saeed, gives a very good introduction to this area. The writer being a woman, the book is also a woman’s perspective of the Red Light area of Lahore.
The art and trade in the neighborhood started to decline in the early 1970’s when Zulfikar Bhutto came in power. The Islamists, who believe prostitution and dancing was considered to be against the teachings of Islam, started the pressure campaign against the Hira Mandi culture.
During the time of the Islamic Dictator Zia-ul-Huq, the area was cleansed and the attempt to stop the dancing and prostitution trade in the area. When the dance and sex trade in the Heera Mandi are was made illegal, the trade moved into other areas of the city. The most popular area are Samnabaad, Gulberg, and Iqbal Town where the trade was done underground.
In early Zia years, attempts were made to close down the red-light area (Hira Mandi) which was the focal point of mujras (female dancers) and prostitution. The move back-fired, as many female dancers left the area and settled in other parts of the city (making this a more pervasive issue); and the government was never able to close down the mujra scene in Hira Mandi, anyway.
The government needs to manage the profession in a respectable manner and make sure that nobody is abused and is forced in the profession.
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