Clerics don’t normally celebrate funerals for sex workers, usually buried in unmarked graves or dumped like rubbish in rivers. Hamida Begum, who died aged 65, began working at the Daulatdia brothel when she was 12. For her daughter Laxmi, also a sex worker, her mother was treated liked a human being.
Dhaka (AsiaNews/Agencies) – For the first time in the history of Bangladesh, a Muslim cleric celebrated the funeral of a sex worker.
Hamida Begum passed away last week at the age of 65. She worked at the Daulatdia brothel, 250 kilometres from Dhaka, starting at the age of 12.
“I never dreamt that she would get such an honourable farewell,” said Hamida's daughter Laxmi, who followed her mother into the trade.
Before Hamida, sex workers would be laid to rest without funeral rites led by a religious leader.
Her funeral was made possible by pressure from a coalition of sex workers and the intervention of Goalondo police chief Ashiqur Rahman, who convinced local clerics.
"The Imam was initially reluctant to lead the prayers,” said Chief Rahman. “But we asked him whether Islam forbids anyone from taking part in the Janaza (funeral prayers) of a sex worker. He had no answer.”
In Muslim majority in Bangladesh, prostitution is legal. However, Muslim spiritual leaders view sex workers, whether they do it out of necessity or under duress, as “immoral”.
For this reason, sex workers are usually buried in unmarked graves or dumped into rivers.
The legal age for sex work is 18 and sex workers must have a certificate as proof of their age. However, many are underage, exploited by human traffickers.
The brothel in Daulatdia is one of the country’s 12 legal sex establishments. It is home to more than 1,200 women and girls, and their children, often paying exorbitant rents.
Set up during the colonial era, it is considered the largest in the world, catering to about 5,000 clients a day.
More than 200 mourners attended Hamida’s funeral, along with her daughter Laxmi and son Mukul Seikh, whilst twice as many went to the post-funeral feast and prayer.
“It was an unprecedented scene,” Rahman said. "People waited until late in the night to join the prayers. The eyes of sex workers welled up with tears.”