SURABAYA (JP): A local councillor recently called Surabaya ""The city of prostitutes"", ahead of its 708th anniversary celebration on May 31.
This angered many. They protested loudly. The councillor was condemned and terrorized.
But with data showing that Surabaya's Dolly brothel complex the biggest red-light district in Southeast Asia, did he say something slanderous?
The councillor, Saleh Mukadar, a member of the East Java provincial council, was asked to make a public apology because of his remark.
The controversy continues until today. Several forums have been held on this issue.
The problem is that the city administration seems to enjoy the large revenue it receives from the presence of brothels in the city.
Some people say prostitution cannot be separated from the development of Surabaya.
Akhudiat, a playwright and poet, said pimps and their prostitutes were ""pioneers of change and development of a city"". They play important roles in establishing new settlements and villages in the city.
In Surabaya, prostitution was first concentrated in Kembang Jepun, now Surabaya's trading center and the heart of North Surabaya.
The prostitutes were then forced to move to the city outskirts like Tambaksari and Wonokromo in South Surabaya.
When Wonokromo was developed into a market and transportation center, the prostitutes were again forced to move, this time to Kembang Kuning, and then later to Jarak (known for its prostitution), Sememi, Moro Seneng, Tambak Asri and Kremil.
The brothels were repeatedly moved due to the development of these towns.
When brothels are set up at the new locations, the area usually rapidly turned busy. In many cases, mosques and Islamic schools were built in its surroundings, forcing the brothels to move to other places.
Many, including religious leaders, stood by councillor Saleh Mukadar.
""It's quite reasonable if Surabaya is dubbed as ""The city of prostitution,"" explained Khoirun Syuaib, a religious leader living in Kremil, one of the prostitution centers in Surabaya.
According to him, prostitutes in a brothel complex are easier to control than those operating along Surabaya's main thoroughfares like Jl. Sudirman, Jl. Tunjungan, Jl. Pemuda and Jl. Diponegoro.
Khoirun is one of the few people who are concerned about the education of the children of prostitutes living in brothels. About 20 years ago, he founded the Islamic school Roudhotul Khoir Bangunsari, which currently has 250 students, mostly children of prostitutes and pimps at the Kremil complex.
With the help of 11 teachers, the school opens in the evening so that it can be attended by other children who go to public schools in the morning.
Every Friday afternoon, Khoirun teaches the Koran and gives a brief lecture to some 125 prostitutes at the brothel complex.
""Some of them had decided to quit their profession. But they face problems as the society does not always welcome them,"" he said.
Another noted ulema, Ghozali Abdi, dedicates his time at the Jarak and Dolly complexes, and Muflihin does so in Moro Seneng.
Prostitution is also conducted outside the complexes, such as along the Kalimas river, the main river in Surabaya.
Here, the prostitutes solicit customers during the night.
Although the local public order officials have been moving brothels out of the city or netting street prostitutes, prostitutes can still be seen soliciting passers-by in the heart of the city such as at Ketabangkali and at the back of Delta Plaza in the heart of this city.
During a recent Cak & Ning (Mr and Miss) Surabaya competition, a member of the jury raised the question of promoting Surabaya as a city of prostitution to the contestants.
Of course, most of them opposed the idea.
""I would be ashamed to promote my city as a city of prostitution. I would rather not be Ning Surabaya, if my duty is to promote tourism in Surabaya this way,"" said one female contestant.
-- Sirikit Syah and Riyadi Ngasiran