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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 August 2005, 06:15 GMT 07:15 UK
Kashmir women fight 'obscenity'

By Altaf Hussain
BBC News, Srinagar

Members of Dukhtaran-e-Millat carry out a raid on a hotel
The all-women vice squad opposes liquor and prostitution
Eight veiled women gather outside a shop selling alcohol on the ground floor of a hotel in Srinagar, in Indian-administered Kashmir and start ransacking it.

They chant Islamic slogans.

One of them lights a match to set the shop on fire but is stopped by others for fear that the fire might engulf the entire complex.

The women comprise the Maryam Squad of the Dukhtaran-e-Milat (Daughters of the Faith).

The squad is named after the Virgin Mary.

The chief of Dukhtaran-e-Milat, Asiya Andrabi, herself leads the squad.

Ms Andrabi is a well-known separatist leader who spent a year in jail with her then breastfeeding child.

"According to the Koran, liquor is the mother of all vices. We have been requested by the local residents to destroy this liquor shop here," she says.

A crowd that watched the women smash liquor bottles, endorsed her claim.

"It has affected our children. We told [the chief minister] Mufti not to open this shop here. But we were told it is a sign of normalcy returning to the state," one person said.

Another man said: "These women have taken a bold step. We'll support them."

'Illegal' attacks

There was no sign of the police while the women smashed the bottles of alcohol.

According to the Koran, liquor is the mother of all vices.
Asiya Andrabi, Dukhtaran-e-Milat leader
But the deputy inspector general of police, HK Lohia, told the BBC that "such attacks are illegal".

"Police will act against anyone breaking the law," he said.

Apart from alcohol the Maryam Squad has also launched a campaign against prostitution.

They visit a brothel in the Habba Kadal locality of the city and demand that it be closed down.

Before launching its most recent campaign, the Dukhtaran-e-Milat organised a function in honour of a barber-turned reformer, Subhan Hajam.

The late Hajam carried out a single-handed campaign against prostitution in Srinagar in the first half of the 20th century.

The government banned brothels in response to his campaign.

There are no legal red light areas in Srinagar or any other part of Indian-administered Kashmir but prostitution has been going on nonetheless.

It flourished in Srinagar before the outbreak of armed conflict 16 years ago.

Mr Lohia says that "small modules, dealing in flesh trade, are still operating".

He said the police have busted about eight such rackets so far this year.

Larger aims

The Dukhtaran-e-Milat has issued a diktat to operators of restaurants and internet cafes to remove booths where there are reports of young men and women getting intimate.

Members of Dukhtaran-e-Millat carry out a raid on a hotel
The group intends to extend its campaign across the state

Asiya Andrabi says the campaign against prostitution and alcohol has been launched from the capital city but will gradually be extended to all parts of the state.

Alcohol shops as well as cinemas were closed down in the Kashmir Valley in the autumn of 1989 after the outbreak of separatist violence.

They have started re-opening in some areas in the past couple of years.

The Dukhtaran-e-Milat launched a campaign for the wearing of the burqa (veil) by Muslim women in the early 1990s.

Its activists sprayed paint on women who did not wear a burqa.

The campaign succeeded but its success was short-lived.

A large majority of women have abandoned the veil.


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