May 2006 News

Kashmiri Women Shun Beauty Parlours After Scandal

16 May 2006

Srinagar: Many Muslim women in Indian Kashmir are shunning beauty parlours after unsubstantiated local media reports said at least two of the businesses were involved in a prostitution racket that included minor girls.Reports about the prostitution ring, said to involve girls being supplied to politicians and police officers, surfaced last month in the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley, sparking violent protests in a region racked by a 16-year separatist revolt. 'After the sex scandal surfaced, we lost 90 percent of our business,' said 40-year-old Fahmida, who goes by one name, in her deserted beauty parlour in Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital. 'Women hesitate to visit us.' Last week, newspapers accused two beauty parlours in Srinagar of secretly filming their clients and then using the videos to blackmail the girls and push them into the sex trade. Police said the media reports were not backed up by evidence. 'These reports have no hard evidence. Both the owners of the beauty parlours were questioned and later set free,' said a police official, who did not want to his name used. Parlour owners said before the sex racket was exposed, they were doing good business. WANING VIOLENCE Beauty parlours, cinemas and liquor shops were closed in the Kashmir Valley after a Muslim separatist revolt against Indian rule broke out in 1989 and conservative Islamic ideas were propagated by armed Islamist militant groups. But as the level of violence fell in the past two years, dozens of beauty palours reopened in Srinagar and other valley towns. 'With great difficulty, I was able to re- establish my business last year,' 50-year-old beautician Shameema Jan said, tears welling in her eyes as she stood outside her parlour. 'But now, the fear of shutting it down again haunts me.' Inside, her employees were applying a hair dye to a would-be bride and her friend. Earlier this month, an angry mob ransacked the house of a woman suspected of running the prostitution ring, before razing it to the ground and setting fire to her belongings. The attack added to the atmosphere of fear surrounding parlours. 'I was a frequent visitor, but now I am afraid to go (to a beauty parlour),' Taufeeq Mir, a college student, said. 'The report of the scandal has scared all of us - me, my sister and our mother.' Indian authorities have ordered a federal investigation into the sex racket, promising to get to the bottom of it. News of the scandal came as Islamist militant groups ordered a shutdown of cable TV relay centres, accusing cable channels of obscenity. Cable operators complied with the threats made last week but resumed operations on Sunday evening after a local Kashmiri militant group said they could start services again, but should exclude 'obscene channels'. There are no legal red light areas in Kashmir, the heart of Sufi Islam in South Asia, but police have arrested many Kashmiris in the past year who they say are involved in prostitution. More than 45,000 people have been killed since the insurgency started.


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