The Secret Lives of Internet Cafes

Net cafés do amazing business in Pakistan. In the 80s, the easiest way to keep your wayward son employed was to open up a PCO (Public Call Office) in the neighborhood. You rent a shop, install a phoneline, a desk and a chair. People come and pay you 10 rupees to make a phone call. Easy money.

Those PCOs were converted into internet access points (no beverages are served on premises) by late 90s. In 1998, a rough survey of Lahore produced an average on 10-12 cafés per neighborhoods. Now, that ratio is to one per street.

Surfing for information for yesterday’s post, I came across this editorial in Jang Daily from April 28th. It told a story of internet, sex and exploitation gone horribly wrong (as opposed to all the times it goes wonderfully right, i guess). I translate:

These Net Cafés by Jawaid Chaudhry

In a Rawalpindi market, two years ago, someone set up a Net CafÈ; he constructed small cabins, placed computers in them, put a screen door with locks on the inside, installed lights in the ceiling and hidden in the lights, installed cameras. After the grand opening, young men and women started to patronize the establishment. They came alone or as couples, went into the cabins and viewed “dirty” websites on the computers. The owners of the establishment recorded these activities and would later show the movies to the couples and blackmail them for dirty deeds. This carried on until around 25 couples were ensared. A CD was compiled and send to Dubai where it sold for 10 lakh (about $100,000). Copies were made and sold in Britain, US, France and Germany and finally, made their way back home. In the beginning, these CDs were sold for four or five thousand rupees in Lahore and Islamabad. A gang got hold of the CD and tracked down the 25 families of the couples. They delivered the CDs to those houses. This caused an instant firestrom. Three of the girls in the scandal committed suicide. One was killed by her father. Two were divorced . While the boys ran away from their houses. Some of the young men on the CD belonged to very prominent families of Rawalpindi. These houses fell prey to blankmailing from the gang.

One of the elders from these families came to me. His only child had killed herself. He was in extremely fragile condition. He told me the whole story and cried that these monsters have destroyed entire families. Please tell the government to take pity on us and stop the violence permeated in the guise of technology. The gentleman left me and I don’t know if he is still alive or not but his problem remains genuine. There are thousands of Net Cafés in this country. Most have cabins. Young boys and girls from colleges and universities go to these cafés, open “dirty” sites and embark on the path of sin and destruction where many blackmailers are sitting. If the Government pays serious attention, this can be resolved easily. There are thousands of software in the world that eliminate obscene websites. The Pakistan government should install these filters on all internet services, register all Net Cafés, issue license of operations, impound unlicensed sites, and ban the use of cameras in all such facilities. In the meantime, all cabins should be abolished. Proprieters should be told to prohibit morally corrupt sites and movies on the premises and teams of enforcers should tour and arrest non-compliant owners.

Someone else was telling me that some stores have installed cameras in their “try rooms”. Some export these films overseas and exploit the children. The government should also pass laws against cameras in changing rooms. Places where cameras are installed should notify the customers via a public sign board. I have seen many places in Europe, America and Canada where they are installed as traffic camers. In USA, it is against the law to record any image or movie without permission even voice recording. In America, even a president, Richard Nixon, lost his government when he secretly taped his opponents but there os no such laws in our country. People have put secret cameras and recorders everywhere and their phone calls even are taped and used later for blackmail. No one knows how many houses have been destroyed by this.

[i snip the rest]

The interesting thing here is that the author, in the case of Net Cafés, wants to regulate the internet itself but, in the case of changing rooms, is satisfied with laws against hidden cameras. Presumably, the same law against hidden recording should solve the Café crime as well as the changing room crime.

The divergence in his solution comes from an old-and-tried argument that television, cinema, western books (and now the internet) are mere conduits of sin and depravity for the youth of Pakistan. The corruption occurs by mere exposure. Hence, the lack of appropriate laws is not enough as the depravity will continue in the Café. They argue, that what needs to happen is a control over the flow of unchecked smut. In case of Pakistan, that means regulating the internet, in case of USA, it means going to the source.

I also want to state that the blackmailing industry hinted at in the editorial is, without a doubt, prevalent and pernicious in segments of the population. It is largely due to the fact that even a rumor can destroy the life of girl. Families have no choice but to comply with the blackmailers to prevent something like that from happening. The way to break that hold is to shift the blame from the victim to the oppressors. A girl who dates, or has an affair is not Evil Incarnate. She should NOT be killed or stoned. sigh.

P.S. While looking around for information on the Pakistani Net Café scene, I got this entry by a pakistani blogger also looking at the same issue – and more here.

update [May 24, 2004]:I am going to temporarily suspend comments on this entry as the discourse seems to be in a downward spiral of righteous religiosity and morally-sanctioned retribution. To be frank, I am quite disturbed by some of these comments and almost deleted them. However, I will let them stand to testify to the shamelessly premodern conceptions of an individual human still prevalent in Pakistani society.

update: comments are reopened but please keep moralizing to a minimum.

213 Replies to “The Secret Lives of Internet Cafes”

  1. I guess nobody is listening to your caveat about keeping moralizing to a minimum :D. The internet cafe owner layout cabins was clearly the spider laying out his web for the ‘flies’. There is no real solution other than being vigilant. Every individual will be called upon to make a moral choice times and again. And one will falter now and then. Having seen so many people of different faiths, I can say that no one can claim to be better than the other. It all boils down to what basic character you have. And I feel there is the same percentage of good, middling, bad in all communities. The creation of Pakistan – bunching together of people of one community – is itself faulty. Does not the Quran says that if God willed all humans to be of one community he would have made them one? Which means we have to live with different communities inharmony and not strife.

  2. kasur lrku ka ha ku jati ha tanhai ma boys k sth akhr wo loose chracter hti ha to phr he jati hana maza lna ar phr bad ma us vedio bchna wla ko blame vedio bnana wla ko koi blame nhi jo Islamic rule ar parents ki izzat nikalna boys k sth chup chup kar milti ha us vedio wala to sab ko alirt kr dia k bcho ap b apni bhno ar btu par nzr rkho ku k inka kmina pan ka kch pta nhi lagta

  3. shame on such dirty peoples , who live like wild animals and do not love and do not obey Islamic disciplined life , B.F and G.f relation is fake and legal way for act in our society , parents and teacher should make aware the childeren about the teachings of Islam and Muslims should keep them away from such dirty life like wild animals that is difference between the Musslims and Non muslims. plzz teach the childeren and make aware the childrene with teaschings of Islam

  4. we love pakistan jesa b hy yaaar apna mulk to hy na apni sarzameen hy mjhe pakistani hony p fakhar hy
    load sheeding , dearness,brutality,crisis,democrecy, nothing nothing could stop us from loving pakistan
    love you pakistan

  5. I just want to say that we should just focus on Islam it will solve all the problelms

  6. I think the owner of the net cafe is fully responsible for this incident. Why had he created an opportunity for the visitors of the net cafe by providing them with the doors which could be locked from inside? I would say that it was his intention to make some situation of this kind. If the young boys n girls of our country r given any chance of this kind , they would certainly pounce upon that. I stand him responsible for that n he should b punished in such a way that none other may ever think of committing such act.


  8. Assalam.u.Aliakum ! one day i go for internet cafe for scanning my some files.When i enter in internet cafe i didn’t believe on my eyes intercafe cabin is full of young boys ages between 13 to 16.I gave my document for scanning purpose and i decide why not i check the program that other watch.I go to cabin and open the server their are so many files .I see a file name cartoon i open the file.File contains sex movies with collection of 75 movies.I immediately close the file receive my scanning file, give payment and come out.I think these young are future,the time spend on internet bad movies,this time spend on your books to success in your education proud to be your parents.

  9. i am totally agree about the education but in fact that acts are conduct by mafia i remember when i was sitting in the park and a man came nearby and tell me that you want any girl then tell me i denied b/c i know latter on he start to black mail me


  11. can any one tell me in whic year this incident was happened? and from which area of rawalpindi it hapened

  12. bismilah hir rehman nir rahim we are atomic power we are world champions in cricket we are in every where …… plz don,t say that u don,t like pakistan bcoz may be pakistan don,t like us if we do some bad things then why should we blame pakistan we never give credit to ur country when we do good things but we insult our country when something happen bad to us shame on us

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