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The Eviction of Tangail Brothel – “Mayor did it!”

Acknowledge to sex workers community and organization on documentary are - Bangladesh Sex Workers Network (BNSW), HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre (HARC), HASAB, Nari Mukti Sangha (NMS), Society for Social Service (SSS).


INTRODUCTION The Tangail Kandapara brothel is around 200 years old. Initially, the Kandapara brothel in Tangail used to be the private brothel of local zamindar (landlord) Santosh. As the years went by, Santosh's successors sold off the land to those who lived there. In Bangladesh, currently there are 11 brothels and Tangail was the second largest one in terms of the number of sex workers. About a thousand people resided there, including over 900 sex workers, 129 children and other people at the time of brothel eviction in 12 July 2014, according to the local people. On the other hand, some other NGO workers estimated that there were 650 sex workers and about 250 children and others in the area. According to the local land office, there are 302 decimal lands that are now privately owned. Among the owners, 50 are sex workers and the remaining 12 are all men. According to the sex workers of Tangail, all 12 men are relatives of sex workers like son or grandson of sex workers.

METHODOLOGY On 12th September 2014 Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) sent a 3 members team1 under the leadership of Kay Thi Win, Co-coordinator of APNSW to Bangladesh in order to document the situation regarding eviction of sex workers from Tangail brothel. The documentation was conducted through a series of formal and informal interviews and Interviews conduct by 1 Kay Thi Win – Co co-ordinator, Chutchai Kongmont – Media Director, Habib Rahman – Policy Officer Acknowledge to sex workers community and organization on documentary are - Bangladesh Sex Workers Network (BNSW), HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre (HARC), HASAB, Nari Mukti Sangha (NMS), Society for Social Service (SSS).


consultations with sex worker community members as well as other key members from Local NGOs and UN agencies. All of the formal interviews were video recorded and translated by a local consultant working with APNSW. The interviewees included: 

4 sex workers who are currently living in Tangail area

3 sex workers who lived in Tangail brothel until the eviction but now have moved to another brothel.

2 members of the national sex workers network of Bangladesh

2 from HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre (HARC)

UNAIDS country coordinator and other UN staff in Dhaka along with, many people from NGOs sector.

This report is based on the interviews collected as well as the real-time assessment/field visit made by APNSW members. In addition to the report, APNSW also produced a 15 minutes film based on the interview of sex workers. After 9 days of fieldwork, the team left Dhaka on 21st September 2014. PRIOR SITUATION BEFORE EVICTION In October 2006, some local religious people wanted to evict the Tangail brothel. But the local authorities including some local political leaders were against this eviction because they wanted a proper rehabilitation before eviction. According to the sex workers, this resulted in a clash between the Tangail sex workers and other local people. As a result, some 14 sex workers were injured. A few days later, responding to a public interest lawsuit, the High Court prohibited eviction without proper rehabilitation. In May 10, 2014, a group of police entered into the brothel and they rescued 19 underage sex workers. According to a NGO worker there was a 10 year old girl too. However, Nari Mukti Sangha (NMS), a sex workers organization communicated with HASAB (a NGO worked in brothel) tried to get back the arrested underage sex workers to give back them to their guardians rather than to send them to safe home. But police was so much disappointed with NMS as they had previously told the police that they would prevent underage girls from entering sex work. However, HASAB and NMS failed to take back those girls from police. Police clearly told the NGOs that according to the high authorities’ decision, they would send girls to safe home in Dhaka. After this incident, Tangail authorities were unhappy about the brothel and also with the NGOs workers. In May 26, 2014, NMS with the support from CARE Bangladesh organized a press conference in Tangail. The name of the conference was “Meeting the Media”. Tangail Government authorities, journalists, NGO workers, local political leaders attended the conferences. The objective of the conference was to show the commitment to stop underage sex workers from working in brothels by NMS. Unfortunately, many people started to talk about the legality and illegality regarding Acknowledge to sex workers community and organization on documentary are - Bangladesh Sex Workers Network (BNSW), HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre (HARC), HASAB, Nari Mukti Sangha (NMS), Society for Social Service (SSS).


sex work and brothels. In the conference it became clear that according to the 2012 trafficking law the brothel is illegal. There were many people who never know that the brothel is illegal and they took this information as an opportunity to create further opposition. In June 30, 2014 a committee of 205 members was formed, it was also the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The committee name was, in Bangla, Oshamajik Karjokolap Protirodh Committee that translates to “the unsocial activities prevention committee.” The 205member committee was formed by the representatives from the local Hindus, Buddhists and Christians, the local puja celebration committee, lawyers from the bar association, doctors and trade bodies such as the local chamber of commerce. It is clear from the discussion with various people that the Mayor was leading person of this process but he was out of the scenario. On July 4, 2014, after the Friday Jumma prayer, the committee distributed leaflets with the message regarding the opposition of unsocial activities. This message and leaflet went to the brothel. Hashi, a leader of a group of sex workers, informed that they met with house owners and sex workers to find a way to stop the eviction. They decided to go to Dhaka and find out what to do. They also communicated with some NGOs like CARE who are helping sex workers and working for human rights. On July 6, 2014, Aklima Akter Akhi, another leader of the sex workers' association Nari Mukti Sangha (NMS), accompanied by officials from non-government organisation Care Bangladesh, went to meet Mizanur Rahman Khan, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission. Akhi informed about the situation of Tangail to NHRC and requested for help. After the meeting, NHRC talked to the mayor of Tangail municipal corporation Shahidur Rahman Khan Mukti and to the Deputy Commissioner (DC) and Superintend of Police (SP) over telephone. However, Mayor assured the NHRC that he would take care of everything. Upon her return, referring to her discussion with the NHRC, Akhi assured her fellow sex workers that nothing was going to happen to them. On the same day the “unsocial activities prevention committee” submitted a memorandum to mayor for the eviction of brothel. This message also reached the brothel and they were thinking how they could protect the brothel. But the leaders of sex workers and house owners were confident after the phone call from NHRC. On July 9, 2014, a group of house owners and leaders of sex workers went to meet the mayor and his father to his residence. Also the Mayor’s residence is very close to the brothel. But the Mayor and his father refused to meet them and they did not show up. After this all the house owners as well as sex workers become scared and started to look for protection from others. THE NIGHT OF EVICTION It was 12 July, 2014, during the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan. Many sex workers were fasting and they prepared good food for iftar, waiting for the sun to set. Everybody was waiting for sunset and for the Azan from the mosque, after which they could eat the food. Some sex workers were waiting on the gates and were looking for people on the street, wishing for clients. Acknowledge to sex workers community and organization on documentary are - Bangladesh Sex Workers Network (BNSW), HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre (HARC), HASAB, Nari Mukti Sangha (NMS), Society for Social Service (SSS).


Usually in the month of Ramadan, there are less clients. Whatever number of clients comes, they usually come after sunset. The sex workers, who were waiting in front of the gates, saw that a group of people were coming with bamboo sticks and petrol in containers. There were 3 gates in the brothel and they took position in all 3 gates. They asked the sex workers to leave the brothel within 2 hours otherwise they would the brothel on fire. The sex workers, who were waiting in the gates, could not believe what they were hearing. All of them got scared and ran inside the brothel. The news press was all over the brothel. Suddenly, the electricity line was cut off from inside the brothel and the water supply was stopped.

Over a thousand people started to cry and run inside the brothel. Many sex workers were looking for their children, old mothers or relatives. Some young people also entered the brothel with bamboo sticks and petrol; they were telling the sex workers to leave the brothel.One 70 years old house owners said “we thought it’s a riot, sex workers were running and crying inside the brothel and some people were coming to beat them”. Almost all the sex workers, house owners and local witness told that no one was able to take anything from brothel, only what they were wearing. One Sex workers told that there were only three small gates and every sex workers had refrigerator, many dresses, TV, CD players, dressing table and a nice bed as their belongings. However, no one was able to take out their household goods through those small gates. Seeing the chaos, many local people took advantage of the situation and robbed sex workers’ properties including TV and valuable possessions. Most of them were local young men including few rickshaw pullers. As darkness fell, all the sex workers along with their children who fled the brothel in a hurry and decided to spend the night in a field near the brothel. They were waiting there with hope that they would be able to go back to their home with a help from others, like police, and NGOs. On the morning of 13 July 2014, almost all the sex workers entered into the brothel to find that nothing was let in their homes. The local people took everything away. Sex workers were crying inside the brothel. One young sex worker said, “I found that some stuff from my toilet was also taken by people”. With no money, no home, no food and no hope, they were in shock about what to do. When the local people heard that the sex workers were back in the brothel, they were beaten again and told to leave the place. Acknowledge to sex workers community and organization on documentary are - Bangladesh Sex Workers Network (BNSW), HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre (HARC), HASAB, Nari Mukti Sangha (NMS), Society for Social Service (SSS).


On 13th July 2014, those people started to break their houses. Within seconds the houses were all broken down, leaving behind a massive field with just the boundaries enclosed. On the same day at around 10 am, a public announcement came from the city authorities, saying that no one should lease any houses or provide sex workers with any form of shelter in the Tangail city. Some sex workers also had private homes outside the brothel and moved there. Even in their private homes, the local people threatened to burn their homes down. THE REASON OF EVICTION Each and everyone in Tangail know that the local Mayor Shahidur Rahman Khan Mukti is behind this eviction. The mayor and his three brothers are known as godfathers of Tangail, and everyone in Tangail town are afraid to speak against them. They make all the decisions for Tangail city. When the APNSW team was interviewing sex workers in Tangail and asked the question regarding who might be behind this, a 10-year-old son of a sex worker promptly replied, “Mayor did it”. All the young people who were directly involved with the eviction are the mayor’s people. The extreme religious people are also the mayor’s people. So there is no question that the municipality mayor Shahidur Rahman Khan Mukti was the driving force behind this eviction. But, why did he do it? The main reason behind this is the control of the three acres of land, as mentioned by all sex workers and other persons within the brothel as well as NGOs workers. Some sex workers mentioned that the mayor was also angry when the sex worker leader when to Dhaka and met NHRC to complain about their situation. But the land grabbing was the prime intent behind the eviction. It was reported by the sex workers and others that most of the house owners within the brothel area have very little amounts of land. They will be forced to sell their land to other powerful people as a large market was planned to set up on this space. This land capture issue was first mentioned in the media from NGOs and human rights workers. The mayor quickly understood that it was not easy to seize the land, so he changed his mind and promised to people that the house owners would get back the land if they can show proper documents. One sex worker mentioned that before the election, the mayor came to the brothel several times and told them that he would take care of them as they don’t have fathers, mothers, brothels and or sisters. “This is how he is taking caring us now!” exclaimed one sex worker with frustration.

Acknowledge to sex workers community and organization on documentary are - Bangladesh Sex Workers Network (BNSW), HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre (HARC), HASAB, Nari Mukti Sangha (NMS), Society for Social Service (SSS).


On Wednesday September 4, 2014, a group of sex workers, around 400-500 of them, entered the brothel again. As all houses had been demolished already, they built temporary shelters and some set up a tent. Many sex workers thought that the additional police for protect them were to protect them. However, mayor, Deputy Commissioner (DC), SP, NGOs workers and many other high officials met in a meeting to discuss this issue. Mayor blamed the NGOs workers to bring back sex workers in the brothel but NGOs workers refused that allegation. After that DC requested everyone to find out the solution. He told NGOs workers to start rehabilitation program and he will provide all kinds of support including financial support. But NGOs workers are aware that sex workers don’t want rehabilitation, they just want their brothel back. So they refused to start rehabilitation program. But a local NGO called Society for Social Service (SSS) agreed to start rehabilitation program, they were working with children of sex workers. On Thursday 5th September about 700-800 religious people bought out a procession in the city against rebuilding of brothel. They declared that they would attack the brothel on Friday after Jumma prayer. Local administration was worried because if religious people attack, they can kill sex workers. So, on Friday 10am, DC, PS, NGOs workers and other administration people entered the brothel with 3 big buses to rescue and rehabilitate sex workers. All the sex workers came out of their temporary camps and protested to have their brothel back. Sex worker leader Hashi informed that sex workers were ready to die and they showed strong determination to get brothel back. After that police forced, only 30 sex workers agreed to go with them in a rehabilitation program and the others left the brothel.

Acknowledge to sex workers community and organization on documentary are - Bangladesh Sex Workers Network (BNSW), HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre (HARC), HASAB, Nari Mukti Sangha (NMS), Society for Social Service (SSS).


LIFE AFTER EVICTION “Life is so much painful brother, we cannot properly eat once a day,” said one sex worker in Tangail. APNSW team tried to learn where the evicted sex workers are now. According to sex workers in Tangail about 100-150 sex workers are in Tangail and many of them have become street based sex workers and some are in different places near Tangail. All the street based sex workers are facing violence and harassment by general people and also by the police. One sex worker showed her bruises of how she was beaten by the police. One sex worker mentioned that she was on the street with her 10 year-old-son and had sex in front of her son. All the street based sex workers are now sleeping on the bus stand, truck stand and people harassed them often. Many sex workers moved to other brothels especially in Daulitidea and some in Jamalpur and Mymensingh. Some sex workers mentioned that they could not go to Jamalpur and or Mymensingh because to enter into those brothel need to pay 50,000 taka (600$) to police and house owners and they don’t have such money. They lost everything during the eviction. They mentioned that they don’t need money to go to Daulitdia brothel but there is not much income there either. The APNSW team interviewed 3 sex workers who moved to Daulitdia brothel. They mentioned that Daulitdia brothel has very few clients. There are many sex workers there but not much clients. One sex workers mention that if they earn money for food they cannot give house rent and if they give house rent then they cannot get food.

“House is a right for all human and no more illegal eviction” Sex workers formed human chain at front of press club in Dhaka protesting the eviction of Kandapara brothel, Tangail Image car by Mohammad Asad.

“Our life in Tangail was like we are in heaven” said one sex worker who moved to Daulitdia brothel. Many sex workers mentioned that they were born and grew up in Tangail and their children were born in Tangail brothel. Tangail was their home and many of them lived there with their other family members especially, with mothers and sisters. Their income was high in Tangail as many clients were received from the neighboring districts. Many sex workers also had permanent clients and with the steady income, family needs could be taken care of easily. Many sex workers also informed that the neighboring people were very helpful to sex workers and Acknowledge to sex workers community and organization on documentary are - Bangladesh Sex Workers Network (BNSW), HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre (HARC), HASAB, Nari Mukti Sangha (NMS), Society for Social Service (SSS).


were protected any form of harassment, but now, no one can speak for sex workers because of the mayor. They also mentioned that police station is close to the brothel and were helpful to them. Some sex workers mentioned that most of the house owners were sex workers as well, so they were very helpful. Sometimes when sex workers were short of money to pay the house rent for the month, they were excused. THE GOVERNMENT RESPONSE The APNSW team tried to look at the government response in two different ways. First, at a city level and secondly, at the national level. In the city level, mayor is the main decision maker and he is the person who led the eviction. DC always follows what the mayor says. According to some NGO workers as well as sex workers, the Superintendent of Police (SP) is in favor of sex workers but he cannot avoid the DC and mayor’s orders. Some NGO workers mentioned that there are SP supported sex workers for couple of reasons -- brothel was his regular source of income and he also had personal conflict with the Mayor. When the mayor understood that he cannot control the land because of pressure from different levels he publically pretended to have interest to give back land to the owners. Three days after the eviction, he called a meeting with all house owners in his office. In that meeting, he promised the house owners to give back land and asked them not to file any case. Sex worker leader, Hashi, mentioned that in that meeting, the Mayor took a written note from house owners saying that sex workers left the brothel willingly and there was no eviction by anyone. Whenever any team visited Tangail and met with Mayor, his open promise was to give back land to the real house owners. The DC also promised the same to the sex workers as well as landowners several times. On 18th September 2014, another public announcement came from DC that all the house owners are requested to submit their documents to the land office and after examining the documents all the house owners will get the land back. When the APNSW team was writing this report, none of the house owner submitted the documents, as they were afraid to submit them without consulting NGOs and lawyers. Hashi mentioned that unfortunately none of the lawyer from NGOs or private sector wants to help because they are afraid of the mayor. At the central level, UN was engaged in some helpful dialogue, but nothing very helpful yet had emerged. Just after the eviction, National AIDS Program organized a meeting with NGOs who were working in Tangail brothel. The main discussion was how NGOs can continue HIV/AIDS related services with evicted sex workers. The Line Director of NAP also mentioned that he would visit Tangail soon and will work closely with UN, donors, NGOs and government.

Acknowledge to sex workers community and organization on documentary are - Bangladesh Sex Workers Network (BNSW), HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre (HARC), HASAB, Nari Mukti Sangha (NMS), Society for Social Service (SSS).


THE NGOs’ RESPONSE The NGOs’ response was much stronger than others. There were two NGOs working inside the brothel and one sex worker collective. The main NGOs and their activities were; HASAB, started working 9 months ago and their main activities was to promote and protect the human rights of sex workers. They are working to promote stronger communication between sex workers, NGO workers and government authorities. They are also working to promote sexual health services for sex workers. After the eviction, HASAB stopped all kinds of activities for sex workers, but continued to maintain their office in Tangail. HASAB mentioned that just after the eviction they provided food to sex workers and also gave 1000 TK as cash to buy clothes. Currently, they are helping sex workers to connect with other brothels near Tangail as they have intervention with other brothels too. Population Services and Training Centre (PSTC) was providing health services, particularly for HIV/AIDS, to the brothels since 2004. Now, PSTC also moved their office to another place and activities are about to close down. Nari Mukti Sangha (NMS) is a sex workers’ self help group. Almost all the sex workers are members of NMS and they are working since year 2000. Although they got many different projects over the last 14 years, their main activities are micro credit loans and health services. Their micro credit capital is over 10 million Taka. Many sex workers keep their money in this organization. Some sex workers mentioned that they have huge amounts of money in NMS but now people are in different places. If the brothel do not re-establish, they will not get their money back. Sex worker leader, Hashi, mentioned that money is in the hands of many people, so it will not be easy to get back all the money but if everything is not back to normal. Society for Social Service (SSS): A local NGO mainly working for the children of sex workers. They provide safe homes as well as education to the children of sex workers. After the child becomes an adult, they can move away from the safe home to any occupation they like including sex work. After the second eviction of brothel, SSS took responsibilities of 30 sex workers. Now they are in the safe home of SSS. In the central level, especially in Dhaka, there was some advocacy action too. Some Tangail sex workers came to Dhaka and with the help of other sex worker networks; they organized a human chain and a press conference. But unfortunately, this issue did not get much attention from the media – only few weekly magazines and few national daily newspapers took up on this important issue. A group of NGOs who are working with sex workers and also working for human rights came together to made a forum to work against the eviction and to help the Tangail sex workers. Long Acknowledge to sex workers community and organization on documentary are - Bangladesh Sex Workers Network (BNSW), HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre (HARC), HASAB, Nari Mukti Sangha (NMS), Society for Social Service (SSS).


time ago when Narayanganj Tanbazar brothel was evicted about 93 NGOs and CBOs came together and formed an alliance called Songhoti. Almost the same NGOs and sex worker groups came together this time. They all had 3 meetings in different times. The last meeting was on 18th September 2014, when APNSW team was in Dhaka. The main discussion and agreement point was that they will work to provide humanitarian support to sex workers. However, this group does not officially exist; they are thinking to register an organization, and make a constitution but there is lack of clarity on this issue and it is not clear how active this group will be in the future to help the situation in Tangail. As getting back land is an important issue, some NGOs are helping to review the documents before submitting them to the land office. BLAST, an organization that provides legal support to vulnerable people including sex workers and with the support from HASAB, 17 house owners were able to submit their documents to BLAST to get them inspected and make sure they had all the legal documents. A group of NGO under the leadership of UNAIDS had also gone to Tangail to assess the situation further at this time. In September, a 4-member-group of sex workers from National Network of sex workers visited Tangail. They met with the mayor, DC and SP. They all mentioned that they heard sex workers left the brothel willingly because they don’t like sex work. They also mentioned that no one informed anything to them prior to the incident. They solely knew about the eviction from word of mouth. The team also found that a group of religious people was following them and they were scared and at one point left the city. THE UN RESPOND UNAIDS is active to address the eviction of sex workers’ issue from Tangail. Under the leadership of UNAIDS, a 30 member high-level fact finding team visited Tangail on 20th August 2014. During their visit they met with DC, SP and the mayor’s office. On that day the mayor was out of country but they talked with the acting mayor of the period. However - and as usual – DC and SP said they knew nothing and had heard that sex workers left the brothel willingly. They also promised that they will help sex workers and house owners as much as possible. UNAIDS also sent a letter to 9 ministers to pay attention to the Tangail eviction. The Government also replied back to UNAIDS to show their commitment to help sex workers. UNAIDS is currently working with Government and will share their results and outcome later. After the fact finding team visited Tangail, the mayor came to visit UNAIDS and met with the UNAIDS Country Coordinator of Bangladesh. The mayor came voluntarily without any invitation from UNAIDS and promised UNAIDS that he will help the sex workers to get back their land and provide them with any humanitarian support. He will also help to stop violence against sex workers and will work closely with UN.

Acknowledge to sex workers community and organization on documentary are - Bangladesh Sex Workers Network (BNSW), HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre (HARC), HASAB, Nari Mukti Sangha (NMS), Society for Social Service (SSS).


UNAIDS Country Coordinator of Bangladesh informed the APNSW team that now they are closely paying attention to 3 issues 1) Work on humanitarian issues -assess the needs of evicted sex workers and facilitate support 2) Support to give back land to land owners. 3) Make sure that such evictions does not happen in Bangladesh in the future UNAIDS Country Coordinator also mentioned that they will work with the government and it would be nice if APNSW works with the community people. UNAIDS also mobilized some financial support for the humanitarian assistance. WHAT SEX WORKERS WANT (IN OR OUT OF TANGAIL SWs) All the sex workers met by the APNSW team want their brothel back. No other options are acceptable by sex workers. The sex workers said they don’t understand the meaning of rehabilitation. They have children, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. All the family members are dependent on their income. Rehabilitation program can give food to sex workers but what about other family members? Many sex workers believe that sex work is also work and as they know only this work, they don’t want to diverge from this path and do anything else. Some sex workers mentioned that since they are not educated, they are not able to do anything else. One sex worker said, “If necessary, I will commit suicide but will not do other work.” Some sex workers mentioned that, if they take other job, they also need to do sex with employer, so it is better to do just sex work. All of them said they want to get back their rights and their brothel and truly believe that Tangail brothel will come back and they will get back their heaven and the only true home they have ever known. All the sex workers have heard of safe home, which is a rehabilitation home for sex workers but they are afraid of that safe home because they have heard that safe homes are like a prison. They keep sex workers in a home and lock the room. They teach them alternative forms of employment, such as swinging and then make them get involved with other job. Sex workers don’t like it. They are happy to become street based sex workers but don’t want to go to safe home. Those sex workers who own the land want to get their land back first. If all the house owners get back the land, then they will slowly go back there and revive the brothel. They are not entirely sure if they can get the brothel back but they are keeping their hopes high.

Acknowledge to sex workers community and organization on documentary are - Bangladesh Sex Workers Network (BNSW), HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre (HARC), HASAB, Nari Mukti Sangha (NMS), Society for Social Service (SSS).


Sex worker leader, Hashi, mentioned that in SSS there are 30 sex workers and whenever DC or any other visitors go there, they demand their brothel back. She also added that all the sex workers calls her every time and tell her their painful stories. She concluded by mentioning that they are ready to come back. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4YyocJRKngt

Acknowledge to sex workers community and organization on documentary are - Bangladesh Sex Workers Network (BNSW), HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre (HARC), HASAB, Nari Mukti Sangha (NMS), Society for Social Service (SSS).

The Eviction of Tangail Brothel  

The report the eviction of Kandapar brothel in Tangail, Bangladesh in July 2013.

The Eviction of Tangail Brothel  

The report the eviction of Kandapar brothel in Tangail, Bangladesh in July 2013.

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