The forgotten Hero; Subhan Hajam
Subhan Hajam had departed from this ephemeral world, peacefully and with a sense of achievement. Even though his sufferance for the people was ineffable, but he was lost in the obscurity of times, and until recently nobody commemorated his remembrance. He had been unselfish, and nobody commemorated his remembrance. He had been unselfish, and without any ostentation and pretensions in his worldly life, and his salvation lay in the high heaven. But he has been disturbed even after his death Reportedly, Subhan Hajam has risen from his grave, and his ghost is wandering as a tormenting and fearful sample for his admirers. During autocratic monarchical rule, majority of the people had succumbed to tyranny and oppression.
Despite his frail body and meagre resources, Subhan Hajam exhibited formidable courage, and struggled for the eradication of immorality. Muhammad Subhan Hajam showed that there was no dearth of rightminded men in Kashmir those days, when a major portion of the state’s revenues came from prostitution. A barber by profession, and hailing from Maisuma, Hajamwas a social engineer, a political thinker, a philosopher, a poet, a revolutionary and a statesman. Prostitution had been legalized during his times, and was eating into the vitals of the society. Hajam would spend only a couple of hours at his shop, earn a few rupees, and come out in the afternoon to fight the vice. Arrested several times, and booked in fictitious cases, he was also humiliated and offered money to keep his mouth shut. But Hajam fought on, and won. Prostitution was banned. According to old-timers, he would go around neighbourhoods beating a drum, and use witty, self-coined slogans to urge people to keep away from brothels.
Muhammad Subhan Hajam showed that there was no dearth of right-minded men in Kashmir those days, when a major portion of the state’s revenues came from prostitution.
The police, the government, the goons who enjoyed the patronage of the prostitutes, and influential people involved in the trade resented his activities. Though goons manhandled Hajam several times, he continued undeterred. Authorities booked him under Section 36 of the Police Act. The charges brought before the City Judge read: “The accused was arrested for addressing people at Maisuma. He was telling them not to go to prostitution centers. The assembly caused traffic blockade and subjected people to inconvenience.” Hajam pleaded not guilty. Rejecting the police allegations, he told the court that he had not blocked traffic as he had gathered people on the roadside.
“Does this act of mine invite the provisions of Section 36 of the Police Act?” Hajam said before the judge, Pandit Bishember Nath. “I have been asking people to desist from immoral practices. I have been stressing on characterbuilding.” He was acquitted for want of sufficient proof. And he did not look back. In Hajam Ki Faryaad, one among a number of Urdu and Kashmiri pamphlets Hajam brought out in his long campaign, he wrote: “The government takes me very lightly and does not extend its cooperation. Had the government helped me, prostitution would have been eradicated by now.
The government must take my reports and statements seriously. That will go a long way in eradicating this menace.” And further: “I have faced problems from various quarters. Vested interests have tried their best to sabotage my mission, but Allah the Almighty helped me, and I stood like a rock. I have been told that the courts do not award proper punishment to prostitutes. This will encourage the practice once again. When a person is arrested for prostitution, I approach respectable citizens of the locality and get their signed statements, which I have been submitting to the authorities. But I have been told that some vested interests have been telling authorities that I extract money from the people. I am only concerned about my mission. Cheap tactics and false allegations cannot deter me from pursuing it.”
The pamphlet bears no date, and must probably have been published around the time the government had been compelled to consider banning prostitution. Deeply perturbed over the spread of prostitution and the organized trade it had become, even in the heart of Srinagar, Muhammad Subhan Hajam once said: “There are three prostitution centers in Maisuma: one at Takia (Gaw Kadal), the second in a tailoring shop, and the third near a liquor shop. These centers enjoy the patronage of local goons.” According to him, most women involved in the trade were bhungies (sweepers). “They change their names and sit in a prostitution center. This relieves them of the hard work of sweeping roads and lanes.” Hajam tried his best to muster support for his campaign and, to a large extent, succeeded. Taking care to involve people from all schools of thought, he persuaded seven hundred signatories, including a good number of Pandits and Sikhs, to submit a memorandum to the district magistrate in Srinagar, asking prostitution to be banned. In it, he suggested making a list of pimps who, according to him, were responsible for spreading the vice.
“A big and strong group is always associated with the prostitutes,” the memorandum said. “We call them dallaas (pimps). They are criminals involved in serious offences. If a list of the pimps is made, and they are called for questioning at regular intervals, the crime rate will also come down.” ‘These people marry women and then sell them for hefty sums in big cities like Lahore, Calcutta, Peshawar, Bombay, Karachi and Delhi.” Hajam also suggested barring prostitutes from wearing the burqa (veil). “When the prostitutes use the veil, the life of charactered women becomes miserable. Unless a prostitute proves that she is no longer involved in the detested practice, she should not be allowed to use the veil.” Hajam also made clear that his campaign was totally apolitical.“We have nothing to do with politics. But laws meant for political activists are being invoked against us.
This is being done with a purpose. Authorities want us to give up our campaign, but that cannot happen.” When this memorandum was submitted, the government had just exempted female singers from tax. Hajam objected strongly. He said that this would encourage prostitution as, in his view, those involved in the trade were mostly female singers who also worked in hotels and houseboats. Hajam had to face many problems during his campaign spread over several years, but he was too determined to give up his mission. And when crowned with success finally, he graciously thanked the district magistrate in Srinagar for ridding the city of the vice. Soon after his campaign forced the government to ban prostitution in Srinagar, Muhammad Subhan Hajam came to know that two hotels in Lal Chowk, one owned by a Hindu and the other by a Muslim, were still involved in the illicit trade.
He wrote to the proprietors, threatening to make their names public if they carried on with their immoral activities: “I warn you to stop the detestable trade forthwith. Or I will publish your names in a poster and expose you.” The warning had the desired effect. Similarly, when Hajam came to know that some women were running brothels in the Buchwara and Dalgate areas, he published their names in a pamphlet, and the dens were closed down. He was also very critical of the role of the press. According to him, newspaper editors had sealed their mouths in lieu of handsome considerations which, he said, they received regularly from the trade kingpins. Hajam and Politics: Though Hajam tried his best to stay away from politics, believing that it would harm his campaign, he could not remain apolitical for long.
Forced by circumstances to make a political statement, he issued yet another of his pamphlets, Mulki Halaat Aur Munafiqeen Ki Amn Soz Harkaat, writing: “I have been saying time and again that my campaign is free from politics. But I have never said that taking part in politics is a sin. I fully understand the political situation of my state. It is a virtue to take part in constructive politics meant for the betterment of the people.”