News / Asia

Son of Sex Worker Struggles to Preserve Pakistan History

Sharon Behn
Ancient neighborhoods in Pakistan’s bustling city Lahore are disappearing under the urban pressures of population growth and new construction. Painter and restaurant owner Iqbal Hussein, the son of a local prostitute, is struggling to preserve the art of a bygone era.

House of treasures

Tucked away in Iqbal Hussein’s house are treasures of Lahore's history: doors big enough for an elephant to walk through, hand-carved balconies, Hindu statues.

Many art pieces are from the now torn-down homes of prostitutes in Lahore’s old red-light district, a once-colorful community that is disappearing.

“It is almost lost now. There used to be, early morning, used to be so lovely voices, practicing going on, musicians used to come over, classical, the echo of a voice, training till 12 the training started, it was so elegant," he recalled. "There used to be beautiful voices, it was so elegant. So all finished now, very sad.”

In the streets where he grew up, the ornate brothels are gone. The area is still known as a red-light district, but Hussein says as prostitution went underground, it became more dangerous, run by criminals and infested with drugs.

Hussein kept the house where he was raised -- at the foot of the city's most famous mosque. He says despite pressure from religious groups, he plans to stay, run the popular restaurant he has built on the roof of his home, and continue painting the women of the local community.

Painting for dignity

Hussein says painting sex workers safeguards the dignity of their lives, much like his art collection protects the city’s history. “It’s very painful, as a sensitive person, as a painter, only I can bring them into my paintings to show them, these are human being also, they want to breathe also, they want to lead a respectable life,” he said.

He is aware that his views and activities pose serious risks from religiously inspired militants in today’s Pakistan. His own death is a subject of one painting.

“I’m a little concerned. Everyone has to leave this world, and it should be preserved," Hussein stated. "Dignity should be given to this.”
 
But although he worries that society is becoming more intolerant, he says he hopes that with time people will come to appreciate the history and art he has spent his life preserving.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Mr. J.A. Ward from: Welwyn Garden City
October 02, 2012 1:21 PM
Prostitutes want to live respectable lives ?
Oh sure; and serial killers all want to be anthropologists...
In Response

by: S S Liu from: Taiwan
October 03, 2012 6:14 AM
Prostitutes are different from serial killers. Their services/trade need to be respected/valued in some way. However, in a good country/society any compulsory sex must be forbidden.
In Response

by: no name from: internet
October 02, 2012 9:53 PM
some do it to feed their kids. who knows?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs