Kelantan’s social fabric is being ripped apart by state govt’s apathy.
KELANTAN Pas’ carefully managed image of an Islamic state, free of vice, is nothing more than a sham.
In a three-day tour of several main districts, including the state capital Kota Baru, the New Straits Times’ Special Probes Team uncovered a thriving vice industry involving prostitution, drugs and illegal gambling.
This begs the question: how is it that the team found out about this in three days, when the state government, which rejects everything that is unIslamic, couldn’t get a handle on the problem even after administering the state for 23 years? In many of these cases, the activities were conducted right under the noses of the state authorities and local councils.
The problem is so deeply rooted in the culture and psyche of the state that children as young as 15 know where to look for drugs and prostitutes.
Within half an hour of reaching Kota Baru, the team was shown by a local fixer how to procure pil kuda, the locals' drug of choice. The transaction went off without a hitch, in broad daylight, and along one of the busiest roads in town. (See accompanying story and video.)
Under the Pas administration, any form of open entertainment is illegal. Minutes away from Bazar Tok Guru, however, the team found a disco. We heard the throbbing bass of techno beat from inside our car long before we got to the spot. At first glance, it could have been mistaken for a simple shoplot. There was no sign. The only giveaway was the dim green-hued lighting and a sign on the doorway that read "Makanan dan minuman untuk orang bukan Islam".
Opening the door, the disco was packed to the rafters. It was almost like one of the countless, third-rate discos mushrooming in Selangor. Multicoloured-lights and the mind-numbing, pounding drone of techno music assaulted our senses. Ladyboys dressed in miniskirts and revealing tops came over to take our orders, almost invariably, they offered us beer.
Some of the transexual "waitresses" were gyrating to the music with some of the guests. Several Muslim patrons could be seen swaying to the music while sipping cold beer and revelling in the attention of the ladyboys.
The team spent the rest of the night bar-hopping. Tucked away in some faraway corner of Tumpat, a 30-minute drive from Kota Baru, kilometres from civilisation and surrounded by jungle, was a sundry shop with huge wire-mesh doors, a small beat-up table, stacks of eggs and other provisions on one side, a cooler on the other. A small alleyway leads out to the back section where round tables dot the garden and where liquor is served by scantily clad waitresses.
If you're looking for more than drinks, a quick chat with the proprietor will get you a massage. Anything extra would depend on how smooth a talker you are and the thickness of your wallet.
A short hop down the same stretch of road and we pulled up at another establishment. The owner, a medium-built Chinese man met the team at the gate. He had seen us pull up and park along the main road, along with a sizeable number of vehicles. He immediately said that they could not accept any more customers because they did not have enough waitresses. The demand for this kind of service was evidently high.
We got back in the car and headed for Tanjung Mas, where the team had heard about an open air karaoke joint that was popular among locals and was open until 5am. As we rounded the bend, we could hear the strains of a poorly executed goyang Inul made popular by Indonesian dangdut queen, Inul.
In the state where the checkout counters of a supermarket are segregated by gender, ostensibly to prevent sexual temptation, the singer's Goyang Gerudi moves sent temperatures and heart rates right through the roof.
The patrons, most of whom were middle-aged men, were lapping it up, cheering the singer on. Several elderly women joined in the fun, dancing cheek-to-cheek and mingling freely with other male guests.
The team also discovered the growing subculture of black metal and punk rock in a conservative state that already frowns upon traditional forms of entertainment including dikir barat.
At an underground gathering of local bands, the common refrain was clearly anti-state government, with The Sex Pistols and Nirvana delivered in heavily Kelantanese-accented English.
The second day, the team trolled the streets looking for information on where to find prostitutes. The odds, we thought, would not be in our favour. However, early on, we were told by petrol station attendants, burger sellers, bell boys and 24-hour convenience store clerks that our best bet would be in Jalan Limau Manis and Jalan Gajah Mati, in the heart of Kota Baru.
Several hotels, from budget to the more reputable ones, were known to be the favourites of locals looking for sexual gratification.
At 3am, as the team cruised along Jalan Limau Manis, we saw a tudung-wearing prostitute together with her ladyboy friend. Both approached our car and initial negotiations began. Keeping an eye on them were two minders positioned near a petrol station, including one stationed across the road in an overwatch position.
Their rate was RM150 for a full, 12-hour service. Our talks broke down with the appearance of three cops on motorcycles.
Moving on to Jalan Gajah Mati, the team managed to convince two prostitutes, a college student and a high-school dropout who wanted to supplement their income, to come back to our hotel for a tell-all.
This came as we failed to get several Thai prostitutes we met in the area to talk to us. (See video and accompanying story.)
Initially hesitant, they both agreed, in return for RM300 to be split between them. Our negotiations took place under the faint glow of sodium lighting. Everywhere around us were bunting and posters with the face of spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat, an omnipresent reminder of Pas' supposed Islamic credentials.
No choice but to sell body
"HOK mudo ado, tua ado, oghe gome ado, hok napok ale ado gok... Ingak nok keno igak, tapi dok, dio gelenya nok maen" (There's the old, government servant, the pious looking... I thought he was going to turn me in but he wanted sex).
To Nabilla, 17, her prospects are bleak. Dropping out of school at 15, the fourth child in a family of eight was tired of her existence. Meals were never a regular affair, as farmers, her parents struggled to make ends meet and feed her seven siblings. In a show of selflessness, Nabilla decided to quit school.
In the early part, she tried to look for jobs to help her parents out but in her village in the district of Kuala Krai, jobs, if any, were hard to come by. She hung out with her friends for a while -- mostly dropouts, too -- before trying her luck in Kota Baru, at the insistence of a friend.
She bunked in, rent-free at the friend's place and tried to look for jobs, A waitressing opening paid RM400 a month but the schedule was gruelling, the work back-breaking. Another offer was at the local supermarket, it paid RM50 more but Nabilla decided to go with the waitressing job. It provided free meals.
Being young and vivacious, the male customers tried to get her attention, offering a good time, fun and money. She didn't take the bait but noticed that her housemates were bringing home strangers. They would disappear behind closed doors. These girls were well dressed and could afford to pamper themselves once in a while. Nabilla wanted in, too. A chance meet with a middle-aged man at the restaurant where she worked, led her to the world of prostitution. In just a few short months, she was making RM1,200 a month, a sum which a school dropout could only dream of.
"I am young and pretty, I still have many more years ahead of me. If those in their 20s, 30s and even 40s can be in demand, I think my prospects are good.
"I have been doing this for less than a year. Many I know can earn up to RM2,000," her tone at mentioning the amount, indicating that this was her target.
Julia's story echoes Nabilla's. Driven to vice by economics, the 19-year-old began to offer her services as soon as she entered a private skills-training college. Her parents made it clear that they could not fund her college education after she barely made it through her Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia.
Julia's steely determination masks the pain she goes through every time she turns a trick. Her ultimate goal is to break free from the shackles of poverty and change her life -- for herself, her sisters and parents.
"If by doing this, I can change my life, then it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make."