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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

  
 

        

Innocence, Danger and Desire:
Representations of Sex Workers in Nepal

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/ 
 

Linnet Pike
Australian Centre for International & Tropical Health & Nutrition

 

"If our democracy in its infant stage is reared under the shelter of the Deuki, the Badini and the trafficking of girls, what will happen tomorrow, Oh Lord Pashupatinath". (Ganesh Man Singh quoted in Brajaki 2053 v.s.).


 As the level of awareness of HIV/AIDS in Nepal has risen, more attention has been focused both on the disease and on perceived "risk groups" for transmission. These groups include prostitutes, or Commercial Sex Workers (CSWs), and Injecting Drug Users (IDUs) as they are denoted in the programmatic parlance of international non government organisations (INGOs) and non government organisations (NGOs).1

The intersection of such stigmatised categories with the highly publicised incidence of "girl-trafficking," in the midst of an epidemic, has seen the production and growth of discourses and local practices within a frame of "moral panic."

This paper explores how the category of prostitution has been socially expressed in Nepal as both foreign aid and technical support for HIV/AIDS awareness, education and prevention programmes has been concentrated and developed. Discourses related to prostitution in Nepal draw on a range of sub-texts and stereotypes related to gender, caste, class and ethnicity. Women of the Badi caste of the Mid and Far Western Regions of Nepal are highlighted in this paper as emblematic of how "the prostitute" has been framed as a deviant outsider, and a danger to the moral order, whilst simultaneously an innocent, yet subtly desirable, victim.2

HIV/AIDS and Discourses on Prostitution in Nepal

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported that the preconditions for a severe AIDS epidemic are present in Nepal. The Government established its first AIDS Prevention and Control Project in 1987 and, one year later, the first AIDS case was diagnosed. Taking into consideration the long asymptomatic phase of the disease and the lack of active surveillance, by 1993 it seemed likely that between 3,000 and 5,000 Nepalis may have been HIV positive (Ministry of Health 1992:1; Cox and Suvedi 1994:1; UNDP Project Document 1994:3). The National Centre for AIDS and STD Control's update for November 1998 reported a total of 1,175 HIV/AIDS cases, yet it is and unofficially estimated that between 20,000-25,000 Nepalis are now infected.

Under-reporting of HIV/AIDS in some areas has concealed the true levels of infection and has made it difficult to predict the future of the pandemic. However, Asia has been described by the WHO as the "Sleeping Giant" of AIDS and it has been suggested that an HIV epidemic would have a devastating impact (Dixit 1991:4, Seddon 1995:3). Nepal has links with both India and Thailand and the effects of a pandemic in either of these countries, particularly in India, are likely to impact Nepal directly. Relevant factors which will influence the characteristics and pattern of widespread HIV/AIDS in Nepal include increasing population density, "rural-urban-rural" patterns of movement and migration related to employment needs, the open border between Nepal and India, widespread STD infections and low condom usage rates.3

Economic conditions, health status, gender and sexual relations, and the political and cultural dynamics of the Nepali state will all determine the ways in which HIV/AIDS affects the people of Nepal (Dixit 1991:3-6; Ministry of Health 1992:1; Seddon 1995:4; UNDP Project Document 1994:3).4

In Nepal, as elsewhere in the world (Altman 1995), acknowledgement of the potential danger of AIDS has led to the growth of an NGO industry and, to a much lesser degree, Community Based Organisations (CBOs) focusing on HIV/AIDS related programmes. These have developed in response both to perceived need and to such externals forces as funding, multilateral agencies' initiatives, and changing local political contexts.5

Whether Nepali NGOs have the capacity to adapt to and address the complexities of HIV within an epidemic situation remains to be seen.

The advent of HIV/AIDS has both constructed and interacted with the discourses of many Nepali NGOs previously working on gender issues. At times, it has led to the conflation of three distinct fields: that of 'girl trafficking', the ''flesh trade", and that of HIV/AIDS. NGOs operating in the discursive field of HIV/AIDS retain significant conceptual links between these three fields, and indeed, create categorical confusion among them. This confusion informs the production and reproduction of discourses related to 'girl trafficking', prostitution and HIV/AIDS. There is commonly little distinction between the two distinct categories of 'girl trafficking' and prostitution, with the NGOs and media creating an ambiguous and blurred field that encompasses all forms of exploitation of women and the 'girl-child.'6

NGO Programmes have focused on a range of connected projects such as AIDS 'awareness' rallies and meetings, women's empowerment projects, trafficking 'prevention camps', income generation and micro credit schemes, condom distribution projects and various "training" classes where young women are taught the 'skills' of painting tablecloths and knitting as an unquestioned escape to a life of prostitution. The NGOs are not alone in their conflation of HIV/AIDS and prostitution, as is evidenced by the official government reactions when a coalition of NGOs repatriated some 120-130 Nepali women from Bombay brothels in mid-1996. At this time, HMG ministers and officials accused the NGOs of "making Nepal a dumping site for AIDS". (Pradhan 1996:29).

The two themes of prostitution and AIDS exist in a discursive field fractured by discourses of alterity and fear, morality and contagion. While gay men, Injecting Drug Users (IDUs) and Commercial Sex Workers (CSWs) have all been relatively leniently categorised in the recent past as "risk groups" for HIV transmission, prostitutes both in the west and in the developing world share a long history as actors in cultural narratives of profanity and infection. Women, generally, and prostitutes, specifically, are "social categories that have been stigmatised as the source of sexually transmitted disease" (Kane 1993:967). Cross-cultural instances of this alignment of women, prostitution and disease are evident in both Thailand and Uganda where STDs are known as "women's diseases".

Further, AIDS has been labelled as "prostitute"s disease" in Thailand (De Bruyn 1992:250). Dixit (n.d:52) has noted that amongst migrant laborers returning to Nepal, STDs are referred to as "Bombay diseases", and in Nepal, prostitutes may be crudely described as "bhiringi girls" - bhiringi being a disease usually translated as syphilis and particularly associated with illicit sexuality. In HIV/AIDS discourse, both in popular culture and scientific representations, prostitutes have been variously described as a "risk group", "a reservoir of HIV infection", and "a bridge". As de Zalduondo stresses:

rather than presenting women in prostitution as links in broader networks of heterosexual HIV transmission, they have been described as infecting their unborn infants, their clients, and, indirectly, their clients" other female sexual partners, as though HIV originated among them" (de Zalduondo 1991:224).
 

Similar representations underpin much discussion of HIV/AIDS in Nepal. Dixit (1990) assumes that, "the virus penetrat[ed] Nepal's hinterland through prostitutes returning from the AIDS-ridden brothels of India." She goes on to note that:

Bombay girls ultimately return to Nepali towns, if not to their villages... (becoming) a source of infection whether they continue as prostitutes in Nepal, or marry and settle down...Several HIV positive girls have returned to villages across rural Nepal and are assuming a 'normal' life" (Dixit 1990:27-28).
 

Further, a study by a Kathmandu based NGO on the status of Nepali women in Bombay brothels, while stating that the defining causes of prostitution are "illiteracy, poverty, social unconsciousness and lack of employment opportunities," describes the women in these terms: "above 30% of girls involved in commercial sex business at Bombay have now been converted into reservoir of HIV" (Rajbhandari 1997:1). The image of prostitutes as a "reservoir" of infection seems to have a particular salience and recurs in various research studies (see for example Bhatta et al. 1993a:1).

In the Nepali context, "prostitute-branded women" (Pheterson 1990) are placed in the lowest and most profane position. Cultural ideals and values defined by the fields of gender, caste, class and ethnicity produce a stereotype which often reflects an elite ideology, stigmatising women who engage in sex work as poor, ignorant and naive, or wanton. A soft-core public discourse emerges, utilising familiar tropes of prostitutes as "sad, mad or bad" (O'Sullivan 1994 in Murray 1995:68), framing "the prostitute" as a deviant woman, rather than a woman performing wage labour, and therefore vulnerable to interventions for the public good. Additionally, with the advent of AIDS, medicalising discourses have entwined with seemingly natural categories such as sex and prostitution, opening a moral space in both public health and the public sphere which is at once prurient yet safely anaesthetised and sterile.

Due to the Nepali state's emphasis on development and the high profile, action-oriented input of NGOs and INGOs into health issues, much of the Information, Education and Communication (IEC) material and strategies on HIV education and prevention have been imported from the West and directly translated and applied. This has fostered incongruous scenarios in which local middle class and 'respectable' women may be employed by NGOs to interview sex workers for "baseline surveys" on their sexual practice, mixed-sex groups blow up condoms as "icebreakers" in "sexuality trainings", local newspapers print articles on sex workers' places of work and lifestyles which incorporate photographs of the workers, lodge, or cafe phone numbers and moral education (see for example Jana Asta 2054 v.s.; Jhana Dharana 2054 v.s.), and the Nepal Contraceptive Retail Sales (CRS) Company FM Radio show simultaneously advertises the CRS hotline as an HIV/AIDS education program and an "exciting"7 popular show.

Categories and Representations of Prostitutions

Prostitution, both as a category and an identity, has multiple social and historical constructions. Discourses on prostitution reveal not a singular, nor constant, "prostitution" extant through time and space but, rather, a range of possible prostitutions mediated by historical and cultural context. Prostitution was, for example, a regulated and contained activity in classical Athens (Bullough and Bullough 1987:35-47; Pomeroy 1994:88-92; Wells 1982:3-9), the European Middle Ages (Bullough and Bullough 1987:110-138; Richards 1991:116-131), in classical, mediaeval and contemporary India (Chandra 1973; Oldenburg 1991), and within nineteenth century British Empire outposts from the Raj to the Outback (Bullhatchet 1980; Daniels 1984; Manderson 1995a; Walkowitz 1980,1984). However, the forms that regulation and surveillance took in each of these societies varied. Rather than speaking, then, of "prostitution", a social constructionist view would suggest we speak of "prostitutions", thus allowing for social, cultural and historical specificities.8

This view is particularly apposite when examining the sex industry of Nepal, in which widely differing prostitutions co-exist.

The sex industry in Nepal has been neither fully measured nor researched. However, increased donor funding of AIDS prevention has created an opening for research into STDs and CSWs as part of the development paradigm in Nepal. The 1990s has seen the rise of Knowledge, Attitudes and Practice (KAP) studies (see for example Bhatta et al. 1993b; Cox and Suvedi 1994; CREHPA 1997; New Era 1995, New Era 1996; New Era 1997; Parajuli and Schilling 1996), but there has been little in-depth qualitative research. Much of the work has focused on issues derived from the paradigms of biomedicine and epidemiology: "risk groups" such as CSWs and migrant labourers, STDs, number of sexual contacts, condoms neglected, and so on.9

The terrain of sexuality in Nepal, as elsewhere, is both highly contested and obfuscated, idealised and fractured. The localised dichotomies which position women in this world are mediated through ideal representations of moral worth, honour and purity, creating a dyadic fracture between good women and bad or dangerous women.10

The National Centre for AIDS and STD Control differentiates between women who have become HIV positive as either "Housewives" or "Commercial Sex Workers" in a classic contrasting of mothers and whores.

These ideals continue to resonate in public discourses yet are at times destabalised by conflicting views of gender and sexuality. For example, at a mid-1998 Kathmandu seminar at which a prominent lawyer presented a set of proposed amendments to the current Trafficking Control laws, many of the women present (including lawyers, INGO and NGO personnel and human rights activists) contested his basic assumption regarding women who engage in sex work "willingly" or "voluntarily", arguing that no woman could possibly take up such work voluntarily and if there were such exceptional women they should be "punished". Taking into consideration such variables as lack of education and economic status, up to 3 years of gaol term was suggested. Similar views are echoed in the following quote from a female police inspector:

Nobody takes up this low profession by her own will. They are forced by poverty and illiteracy… (once) they get involved, nothing can stop them from continuing the habit. Besides they will already have lost their moral values and are rejected by society". (The Independent 1997:2).
 

By somewhat circular logic, it is argued that no (good) woman could possibly do such work, so of course she must be "rescued" and "rehabilitated". Therefore, any women doing sex work without overt coercion must be "bad" women and thus in need of regulation, surveillance and the discipline of the moral order and the state. For these "lost" women seen to be working in the sex industry "willingly", there is little support, funding or attention ; only a minority of NGOs are prepared to work with them on health issues and human rights or to involve the concerned sex workers in programmes which are directly aimed at them.11

Most of the NGOs working directly or indirectly with sex workers prefer to engage with those women who can be represented as exploited victims, thus pandering to elite notions of appropriate female behaviour and denying or glossing the agency and choices and, indeed, life realities, of women who enter the sex industry. The punitive responses and proposed strategies aimed at addressing those women on the borders of the gendered moral landscape are predicated on the assumptions underlying the primary discourse on trafficking as described above: that victims must be rescued and redeemed, whilst "willing" or even potentially "willing" women require containment (in all senses) and punishment. Thus, "trafficking prevention camps" in which girls "in danger of being trafficked" can be educated and given "income generation skills" have been established in perceived danger areas such as Sindhupalchowk and Nuwakot Districts. At the 1998 seminar mentioned above, surveillance of households, a registration system of young girls and women, and a system of "spies" working with the police were outlined.

In a similar vein, at an "Awareness Raising Seminar" in early 1996 jointly organised by an NGO and the Planning and Research Division of Police Headquarters, Kathmandu, and held at Chautara, the District Headquarters of Sindhupalchowk, local elite participants such as school teachers and social workers suggested punitive measures for those women who "willingly" entered prostitution. Ideas presented included anonymous "criminal cards" (so that those suspected of trafficking could be identified to the police); introduction of a registration and identity card scheme for all women aged between 12-35 years to allow monitoring at a village level; that the laws be amended so that those women leaving "willingly" could be prosecuted; that village authority be strengthened to allow punishment of "frequent comers" (that is, women who return regularly to their homes and induce others to accompany them back to India); that the property of returnees should be confiscated as a deterrent measure and, finally, that teachers organise students to collect data on returnee women who are HIV positive. These responses suggest a climate of "moral panic" and may be seen as attempts to discipline female bodies without reference to the wider cultural and structural positioning of these bodies.

While little qualitative data as yet exists on sexuality, sex work or sex workers in Nepal, preliminary research suggests that there is a "a vigorous sex industry" (Bhatta et al. 1993a: l). As with street children (see Onto-Bhatta 1996), the imperatives, discourses, and programmatic limitations of INGOs and NGOs have categorised sex workers in Nepal within several discrete fields. These categories of sex work, as described in NGO pamphlets and INGO texts, are as follows: those "trafficked" from the country, either willingly or unwillingly, to the sex industries of India and other neighbouring countries; those "local women" active as Commercial Sex Workers within the country; and those women working in the "traditional" prostitutions of Nepal, within practices said to be based in religious and cultural customs (see for example O'Dea 1993). In effect, these three basic categories emerge in the Nepali discourse on prostitutions, all of which may be placed under the explanatory rubrics of modernity/poverty, religion, and culture. Terms such as "comfort women", Hidden Sex Workers, Women at Risk, and Identified Sex Workers have also been constructed by various NGOs, in addition to the more common Commercial Sex Worker, to further depict empirically separate categories of prostitution. However, the basic category is a reified one, in which women who engage in acts of sex on a transactional basis are essentialised by and through their work alone.

Within writings on "local women" working in the sex industry and women "trafficked" outside Nepal, differences are elided and a homogeneous picture of "the prostitute" as powerless victim is portrayed. The women are generally depicted as girls/children and thus as innocent and young, open to trickery and entrapment; their poverty and "lack of awareness" creating the template for their lives.12

They are presented as simple village girls with the fair features prized within Indian brothels, often of Tamang ethnicity, who have been lured by promises of jobs or marriage to the hell of a life of torture confined within a brothel. As John Frederick notes in a recent article, this discourse is fractured by the reality that, for many women, to enter the sex industry in India is to enter a family business and is a survival strategy in response to rural poverty and indebtedness (Frederick 1998:12-19). It is rarely mentioned that differing life experiences and, more particularly, divergent class, ethnic, caste, age, and geographical factors mediate the choices, negotiation abilities, and agency of women working in the sex industry. Indeed, if sex workers are allowed the problematic attributes of individuality, choice, and agency, it is difficult to engage in polemics based upon the familiar imperatives of rescue, rehabilitation, and redemption which may be traced back to similar moral discourses on prostitution prevalent during the late nineteenth century (see Walkowitz 1980, 1984). The tensions and problematics glossed by representations within this category are outside the scope of this paper but I wish to highlight the simplistic and Manichean foundations of the representations of "girls" trafficked and engaging in sex work within Nepal.

As the NGOs have emphasized, girls and women do indeed get trafficked. Working in brothels in Bombay and Calcutta is hard work, yet the complexities and nuances of women's lives may be overlooked and denied within a reductionist framing of sex work in foreign brothels. For example, women such as Minu, a 22 year-old chhetri woman from Biratnagar who left school after class 5 and worked in a massage parlour in the Kathmandu tourist area of Thamel, become invisible within this narrow representation.13

Minu chose not to stay in her village and work in the family home and fields but kept in close contact with her family and was saving money, an option not open to her in the village. Her earnings as a sex worker have allowed her to support herself well in Kathmandu and enabled her father to have necessary medical treatment. She may be seen as an example of the fluid identity of some women who work as sex workers; she will possibly move in and out of sex work and eventually have an arranged marriage. Her family is unaware of the nature of her job. Indeed, if they knew she would be seen as "ruined" (bigriyo) and her family status (iijjat) would be lost. However, she regularly travels home for festivals, weddings and other family occasions. Minu has moral distaste for the nature of her work but has few employment options with her level of education and lack of skills. In this context, to talk of choice and agency is both abstract and ambiguous. Yet representations of women within NGO discourses need to be teased out and seen as only partial truths premised upon an elite understanding of gender, ethnicity, caste and class. The NGO publications and the foreign journalists' accounts, well meaning in terms of advocacy, do a disservice to the women they are representing by distorting their lives in uncritical accounts filled with unreliable statistics which undermine the specific realities of exploitation. The construction and (re)production of their lives as a tabloid tale elides the very real pain which many women may have experienced (cf. Ennew et al. 1996).

Dangerous Bodies: Images of Badi Women

"Traditional" prostitutions are practiced primarily in the Mid-Western and Far- Western regions of Nepal and include women who are Deuki, similar to the Devadasis in India (see Shankar 1994; Brajaki 2053 v.s.): women who are offered as acts of merit to temples. In addition, there is the sex work of the Badi caste, which has been described both as a "cultural" and "traditional" form of prostitution.14

Over the last decade, reportage on the Badi has escalated, both in the national and international media, in NGO publications and academic studies and reports (see Bhatta et al. 1993b; Cox 1993; Cox & Suvedi (1994); Dahlburg 1994; Dangi 1994; Gautam & Thapa-Magar 1994; Gilada 1993; Kamat 1995; Kayastha 1996; Onta 1992; Rimal 1997; Shrestha & Yami 1991). Additionally, in the two-year period of my field work three film crews under the patronage of INGOs and NGOS travelled to Western Nepal in order to make documentaries on "child prostitution" in the Badi communities. The imperatives of international funding are such that, inevitably, a film on communities engaged in sex work will have a more compelling, if not titilllating, effect than a film depicting the lives of agricultural workers. However, the ethics of INGOs who are currently funding projects in these communities and filming marginal and sexually stigmatised women and children as a fund raising exercise remain unaddressed.

In many ways, the Badi have undergone a process of "hypersexualisation" (Kammerer 1997). Nina Kammerer has suggested that "hypersexualisation symbolizes and sustains social boundaries and inequalities" (Kammerer 1997:2). She further argues that hypersexualised images, as documented in her case study of the Hmong in North Thailand, "have the power in social life to both mask and maintain real economic and political inequalities" (ibid.). In the case of the Badi, this status as sexual "Other" created by representations which emphasize their deviant sexuality and deviance from ideal Nepali norms and practices, is further grounded by their positioning as a dalit (oppressed) or "untouchable" caste.15

A fetishising gaze rests upon the Badi, filtered through the dark lens of authorial representations, caste and class stereotypes and the gloss of moral knowledge.

As previously noted, local discourses on "girl trafficking" and prostitution have conflated a range of representations to create a generic image of "social evil" or "social perversity" (Pandit 1997:1-4) that is detrimental to images of national honour. Within this context, the practice of sex work by the Badi is constructed as a "prevailing evil tradition" (Ghimere 1997. 22). Writing on several "social perversities", Kumar Pandit (1997) discusses varied practices such as prostitution, gambling and alcohol use and states that "social perversities are predominant in our society. These have obstructed our social progress" (Pandit 1997: 1).16

Gender discrimination and "torture of women as sorcerers" are linked, with prostitution, as a "chain of perversities" which are "contrary to human civilisation" and seen as "manifesting hurdles in the healthy development of nationality" (Pandit 1997:14). Trafficking of women in particular is seen as having "tarnished our glorious national image" (Subedi 1994:5). The development discourses thus also come into play, contrasting a modern culture with the residue of perversities and superstitions from the "traditional" past, at odds with both national honour and development.17

  

In these discourses, elite, brahmanical views on caste and identity portray low caste people in a manner which collapses several fields such as "backwardness", poverty, and awareness into a complex image of caste status based upon such referents as dress, immorality, alcohol-use, violence and hygiene (cf. Parish 1993:28).

Rather than focusing on embedded structural inequalities, the prevalence of "lack of education and lower social awareness" have been pinpointed, with poverty, as causative factors in the "flesh trade" (Raut 1997:29). Homogenised representations of the Badi draw on these understandings of development, morality and caste. Quotes from three different people from bahira samaj ("outside society" - the term used by the Badi to denote wider society) in the village of Dhampur, all incidentally from the high-caste brahmin and chhetri groups, illustrate the narrow range of representations and thought on the local Badi populace.18

A local businessman and landowner waxed eloquent in describing the Badi as "poor, oppressed and backward people - in need of education, support and upliftment." In contrast, a local schoolteacher angrily accused the Badi of laziness and unwillingness to work like other people. He added that as boys and youths visit the community they are "ruined" and this dishonors their families. His solution was to "break and scatter" the community to other places. A policeman stationed at the VDC (Village Development Committee) headquarters described prostitution as the caste occupation of the Badi but also posited "poverty" as the reason for their sex work. These depictions form a continuum with poverty as the central reference point - from the deserving poor to the undeserving poor. Yet poverty is socially constructed, produced and reproduced by the socio-cultural dynamics and political economy of a larger world. Indeed for the Badi, over the last fifty years, class and caste positioning have produced such gendered strategies as migration and sex work.

Prostitution (or pesaa - profession, livelihood or business) as it is called within the community, is not perceived as a caste occupation by the Badi community in the sense that the other "occupational" castes are aligned with jobs such as leather-work or tailoring. Their caste profession was entertainment, and members of the musical and dancing groups were respected for their skills and called to perform at celebrations by elite castes. Although those who contracted the Badi to perform may have at times respected them, Ram, an older man in his early 60s who had played tabla in travelling groups of Badi , also said that audiences often did not: some members of the audience sought sex from women dancers. He pointed out that on these occasions the group as a whole might earn Rs500/- per night, whilst thulo maanche (important people) might offer a woman Rsl,000/- for sex. Ram spread his hands in a gesture indicating the often obvious outcome of such offers.

Although pesaa takes place in many Badi communities, there are also households and communities in which there is little or no pesaa. As one Badi NGO worker poignantly noted "nobody talks about the Badi marriage system - they always talk about prostitution." In reports on the Badi a number of assertions are generally made in relation to marriage, paternity and life paths for women which cause pain to members of the community with whom I have discussed these issues. It is reported that "all Badi girl children grow up to be sex workers" (Gilada l993), that "Badi men have no traditional service" (Hannum 1997:122), and that "there are no traces of fathers in the family" (Majapuria 1991: 133), or that "whole new generations of "fatherless children" in that caste group continue the profession" (Ghimere n.d.:4).

In common with some other caste groups in Nepal, such as the Magar, Gurung, and Thakuri (see Bista 1996), the preferred marriage system for the Badi was one of cross-cousin marriage, with males marrying their mother's brother's daughter (MBD) and women marrying their father's sister's son (FZD). This preferred pattern is still in place, to a certain degree, but has fractures for two reasons. Firstly, if women are practicing as sex workers, they generally reside in their natal home, with their sons, who are therefore living beside their potential marriage partners, that is, their MBDs. Consequently, it is common for the girl-cousins to give tika (in the ceremony of bhaai tika in which sisters give tika to their brothers) to the boys they have been brought up with, and as they are then in a symbolic 'sister' position, marriage is impossible. Secondly, if a young woman was doing pesaa, it would be unthinkable to marry her to a young son as she is considered bigriyo (ruined). Nonetheless, several Badi males in their mid-twenties and working in NGOs have married their actual or classficatory MBDs whilst in Dhampur, eight of the households have members married in this pattern, showing that this marriage preference is still relevant for many in the generation under 30 years of age.

The notion of women who have become bigriyo underlines the fact that, while the Badi practice of sex work subverts Nepali norms of ideal behaviour, this praxis is enacted within the context of those norms, and non-virginal women are evaluated by according standards of purity. Therefore, while sex work is certainly a social norm in some Badi communities, it is not a moral norm, since moral knowledge is still in line with the Nepali moral order (cf. Cox 1993). In Dhampur, there are several categories of sexually mature women: young women who are virginal and attending school, young women doing pesaa and hence bigriyo, mature married and/or retired unmarried women and young daughters-in-law. With this last category, in-marrying young women, it is also possible to see the normative moral field and the hegemonic social order at work. There are seven young women, aged less than 25 years, in this category in the community, some with arranged marriages and some with "love marriages." By caste affiliation, they are primarily Badi, with one Damai teenager. All were married at approximately 15-16 years and have young children or are pregnant. In relation to social and behavioral roles, they are lowly placed in the hierarchy of the family, as has been described for other Nepali young women in this positioning (see for example Bennett 1983).

Women doing pesaa occupy an anomalous space, being bigriyo on an ideal level but also acting as a primary source of family income. The notion of bigriyo acts then, in practice, as a categorical sign and.there is no particular moral censure as such within the community. However, as noted above, these women are not considered as pure as a virginal women, and would not be thought of as potential brides for sons, although an elopement or love marriage is always possible. In such a case, all informants within Dhampur stated that the woman would cease doing pesaa as married women do not do pesaa.

However, in the world beyond the community, the bodies of these bigriyo women act as corporeal sites of the Badi caste identity. Narratives of overt sexuality frame the archetypal Badi woman within a cultural nexus of desire and danger, where "difference" is inscribed on the bodies of these bigriyo women. They are described as indulging in "tobacco, smoking cigarettes and drinking" (Kamat 1995). Further:

these harlots can be seen waiting their customers in a well dressed and well decorated position...Some of them use cigarette and smile when a person passes... The girls are seen as very attractive as they decorate their bodies and faces with beautiful saris and valuable as face-cream, lipstick and other scents (sic) (Gurung 1982:6,7).

However, beyond the shameful external signs of "looseness" - make-up and cigarettes - lie deeper corporeal signifiers of anxiety:

Politeness and decency are absent among these Badi prostitutes, instead they exhibit an emancipated openness and crudeness in manners and speech...The more experienced and bold girls do not hesitate to wear pants and shirts like city girls...the external glamour is a facade which hides the rotten interior which must be medicated before the whole is infected (Gautam &. and ThapaMagar 1994: 91-95)
 

In discussions with educated male Badi NGO workers in their mid-twenties, it emerges that they are particularly conscious of, and concerned with, presenting an image of middle-class mores through such key cultural markers as dress, language and personal presentation and behaviour. This image, for both men and women in the Badi community, stands in sharp contrast to representations of the stereotype of lower caste action and behaviour in general, and of the Badi caste in particular. For those contesting both the stigmatised status and the structural positioning of the Badi, a re-imaging of ascribed identity is thus constructed, inscribed, and maintained corporeally.

The representations of the Badi in public discourses produce images of fear and distaste, albeit at times tinged with desire and titillation, and informants have noted that they would not want a Badi household next to their home or want to have Badi in their workplace as co-workers. In terms of employment, unless a programme of affirmative action or a quota system that reserved jobs for the wider dalit population were developed, young and unskilled Badi men seeking wage labour will continue to migrate to sites in India and Nepal and women will continue working from home as sex workers.

Discourses on the Badi refract upon young women, both corporeally and in the social world, with all Badi women perceived to be prostitutes, a profane and deviant positioning in Nepali culture. Schooling offers an alternative identity and possibilities, albeit at the cost of adopting elite behaviours and worldviews. Individual achievements in the fields of employment and education however will have little impact on the structural poverty and powerlessness of the wider Badi community, which is founded on historical and cultural disenfranchisement.

While representations of Badi women fall at one end of a continuum of hypersexuality, all women who practice sex work are culturally positioned within images of deviance, danger and desire, with the possible exception of those women granted the one dimensional graces of innocence, naivity and "backwardness". This paper has highlighted the range of representations of women working in the sex industry of Nepal - for they are always representations, with no public arena for women to directly express their own views and experiences. Sex workers remain the object of debate rather than having a voice with which to present and (re)present themselves19.

Since the early 1990s and the commencement of HIV/AIDS prevention projects, there has been an increasing escalation of reportage and programmatic focus on prostitution and sex workers in Nepal. Much of the discourse on prostitution is reliant on images constructed by INGOS, NGOs, and the media, and this discourse reflects dominant ideals derived from cultural and development domains. At this point in time the exigencies of the advent of HIV/AIDS have been a contributing factor to the opening of a space in public and institutional discourses for debate regarding prostitutions and sexualities. However, my reflections point to a need for teasing out and respecting the complex , contradictory and fluid realities of women's lives.

FOOTNOTES:

1. Kane's study of "recognised" and "quasi-prostitution" in Belize, which details the problematics and ambiguities of a homogenised representation of the old dichotomy between "good" girls and "bad" girls, is illustrative of the blurred boundaries within sexual landscapes (Kane 1993:974). Her discussion stresses the need for focusing research on the "kinds of situations in which HIV may be transmitted between groups, rather than the types of groups that may be at risk" (Kane 1993:977).

2. Anthropological fieldwork was conducted in Nepal 1996-1998 with support from a University of Queensland Postgraduate Research Scholarship and the Australian Centre for International & Tropical Health & Nutrition. Fieldwork in Western Nepal would not have been possible without the assistance of many organisations and individuals. I am particularly grateful for the support offered by SAFE (Social Awareness for Education), an NGO based in Nepalganj, Banke District. SAFE director, Dilip Pariyar and staff members Suklal Nepali, Sunil Pariyar, Asok Nepali, Manju Nepali, Saguni Nepali and Hasila Nepali all offered critical insights to the fieldwork process. Kamal and Hira Nepali Arjun Nepali and Lal Bahadur Nepali, of CSG (Community Support Group) a CBO based in Satti, Kailali District, provided family, friendship and support during fieldwork at a village level. The Badi communities in which I lived and worked offered me extraordinary kindness, patience and hospitality and I particularly thank Sukmeli Nepali, Padmi Nepali, Jaipuri Nepali and Durgesh Nepali. Discussions over countless coffees with Sushma Joshi allowed development of some of the understandings expressed within this paper and I am very grateful to her for innumerable expressions of love and support.

3. The National Centre for AIDS and STD Control notes in its STD Case Management Guidelines that little data is available on STD rates for Nepal. A recent survey revealed that 4.7% of 1,802 pregnant women in urban centres of Nepal had had previous syphilis infection whilst 1.3% had acute syphilis. Further, "anecdotal evidence suggests that STDs are common and review of gynaecology department records show that diagnoses often associated with STD complications are frequent" (NCASC 1997:1). Since the early 1990s an increasing amount of foreign aid has focused on HIV/AIDs prevention programmes which have included condom use promotion, for example the USAID funding to the AIDS Prevention and Control Project (AIDSCAP) implemented in the Central Development Region from 1993-1997 and to the Nepal Contraceptive Retail Sales (CRS) Company. CRS"s retail strategy includes selling condoms from non-traditional outlets such as tea and paan shops (personal communication Binod Bhd. Katri, Managing Director, CRS Company).

4. See for example Osmond et al. (1993:101) on the "multiple jeopardy" to HIV transmission wrought by such dynamics as gender, poverty and ethnicity.

5. The growth, over the last seven years, of NGOs is primarily related to political conditions within Nepal after the Jana Andolan (People's Movement) of 1990 created a multi-party political system; the changed political circumstances have allowed greater freedom in various fields (see Brown 1996 and Hoftun & Raeper 1992 for political history of the Jana Andolan). Prior to 1990, all NGOs were strictly regulated and monitored by the Social Services National Co-ordination Council (SSNCC) and, while NGOs still need to register with their local District Administration Office and the national body, there has been a dramatic expansion in the number of local NGOs. The increase in the number of NGOs registered with the national NGO coordinating organization, the Social Welfare Council (SWC), was from approximately 200 in 1990 to more than 7,000 by mid 1995 and an estimated 25,000 plus by late 1997 (Brown 1996:68; Hannum 1997:59). Over time, international donor agencies have shifted major amounts of funding to NGOs and, indeed, post Jana Andolan, there was possibly a growth in NGOs created for the purpose of attracting foreign funding (Hannum 1997:59; Janssen 1994; Seddon 1995:9). In a recent paper critical of foreign aid, Kanak Mani Dixit argued that NGOs in Nepal "are created to access funds that become available" (1997:181). See also Fujikura 1996 for discussion on bikas (development) and international (primarily American) involvement in aid programmes in Nepal since the early 1950s. In 1990, Shanta Basnet Dixit related that "not one non-governmental group in Nepal had shown sustained interest in understanding and combating AIDS"(Dixit 1990:28) while a recent AMFAR (American Foundation for AIDS Research) publication noted that none of the 17 NGOs funded by them in 1993 had any in-depth experience working in the field of HIV/AIDS (Hannum 1997). Since that time a growing number of NGOs have focused on HIV/AIDS issues (see Khadka 1997 for a sense of popular criticism of governmental and NGO efforts in HIV/AIDS prevention in Nepal).

6. See Ennew et al. 1996 on the uniqueness of the discourse on the "girl child" to South Asia.

7. Discussing the post 1993 period when a large amount of HIV/AIDS funding became available to 17 NGOs through the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AMFAR), one NGO professional noted "We just didn't know in the early days …there was not enough material at that time and we looked at material from the US and Africa… We did literal translations that no-one understood (In) trying to find decent words we found phrases and never used Nepali words (that applied)…(We) didn't have time and translated literally and made another set of words…while Nepali is such a rich language in terms of marriages and love relationships" (personal communication Dr Rajendra Bhadra, Project Co-ordinator, B.P. Memorial Health Foundation). Many NGO informants expressed their initial embarassment (laaj) when confronted with the "boldness" of sex and sexuality "trainings" and I observed one training in which the mixed sex group shifted uncomfortably when asked to name the wooden dildo held aloft by the faclitator, until someone called out that it was a "penis." Indeed, most informants felt more comfortable with English language words when discussing sex while, in this training, the descriptive word finally settled on was the sanscritised and religiously sanctioned word linga, rather than more common or vernacular Nepali words for penis, such as lado. A further incident at this particular training in the Mid Western Region is illustrative of the cultural problematics encountered at the nexus of globally established development practice, HIV/AIDS projects and local constructions of sexualities: during the initial "icebreaker" in which "desensitisation"games with condoms are usually played, two of the women present refused to blow up their condoms as they were engaged in a day of religious fasting.

8. Until recently, prostitution has been little researched by serious academics despite its powerful symbolic positioning within representations of the female. This disinterest may be linked to dualistic European notions regarding illicit sexual activity and the philosophical traditions that privilege the mind over the body. Further, scholars share the dominant ideologies and those who researched stigmatised behaviour were equally stigmatised by other scholars. Vance (1991: 875) confirms this view in her discussion of the role of anthropology in sexuality studies, noting that anthropology has shared the cultural understanding that sexuality is not a valid field of study and that the researcher's motives and character are somehow suspect due to the anxieties inherent in the "dangerous and marginalised nature of the study of sexuality." It is from marginal groups and other disciplines, such as history, that a social constructionist rather than an essentialist view of such categories as "the homosexual" and "the prostitute" developed over the last two decades (ibid.: 875). Within the field of history, a social constructionist view has been taken by writers such as Weeks (1981) and Katz (1976) in arguing that social categories and identities such as "homosexuality" are socially constructed and historically contingent - distinguishing between behaviour which may be universal and identity which is mediated by time and space (Chauncey et al. 1991: 5; Vance 1991: 877).

The practice and politics of sex research in general has had a problematic history with much of the early discussion of sexuality, in terms of AIDS research, reliant on such data as the Kinsey reports, compiled almost fifty years ago (Parker 1992:225). Further, cultural notions of gendered roles and behaviour colour and bias the basic givens of the field, for example, the category "prostitute" has been based more on the locale or sites of work and stereotypes of the women involved. In contrast to their clients, prostitutes are framed within a fixed identity, related solely to their work.

10. See Allen (1990) on the range of Nepali representations of the female and Bennett (1983) on the tensions and oppositions implicit between the roles of sister and wife.

11. Since mid-1997, a small coalition of Nepali women activists, lawyers, INGO and NGO representatives has come together with the aim of collating and disseminating material which both contests and expands the simplistic and sensationalist discourses which have dominated popular culture, NGO and media representations of trafficking and prostitution. I include the following long quote as it exemplifies almost all of the, at times, contradictory nuances expressed in the mythic narrative on prostitution in Nepal - a narrative field fractured by dualistic images of women as both the victims of male wiles and lusts and as seductresses with a fashionable bent for western luxuries:

(M)any girls from the hills of North-East India…are passed off as girls from Nepal, such is the attraction of the fair skinned girls from Nepal in the Indian flesh market. Most of these girls are sold by their near and so-called dear ones...In some cases, the unfortunate girls are kidnapped by truck drivers of transport companies plying between Nepal and India. Many of them are tied by their hands and mouths and dumped mercilessly in trucks. The life of Nepali girls in Bombay's prostitute dens is like hell. The girls who refuse to adopt this profession are tortured both physically and mentally. The brothel owners have rented "goondas" who repeatedly rape them. Some of them are starved for days together and these helpless girls finally succumb to the various pressures. It is really disgusting to stroll through these areas because we can see these girls attracting the passer-by through various indecent gestures. They can be heard making dirty jokes among themselves - they are probably trying to learn to resign to their fate (sic) (Thapa 1996).

The author goes on to suggest that Bombay's film world has "lured" educated girls of "decent" families to become "call girls" in Bombay. He further outlines that Arabs in Bombay seek out Nepali girls who are known as "very timid and obedient" and that there are "rumours that some of these girls have died due to unnatural sex practices but such cases are never reported to the police." Additionally:

In Nepal…this profession is blooming and spreading in almost every town of Nepal. There are students, housewives and girls from villages following this profession due to various compulsions. Though some of the most important reasons are financial problems and a yearning for fashion…If this trend goes unchecked, it will spread like an epidemic in the whole Nepali society. Every Nepali should rise to the occasion before it destroys the very fabric of our society (ibid).

Additionally the soft core and voyeuristic allure of such articles cannot be denied as is evidenced by the range of articles on prostitution and sexuality in the daily and weekly papers (see for example Pradhan 1997a:2; Pradhan 1997b:2; Rajbhandari 1997:3).

12. See for example Pradhan (1992:41-49) and Subedi (1994:4-14) for Nepali examples of this genre and Larmer & Roberts (1994:27) and McGirk (1996:4-5) for accounts from overseas journalists on the plight of Nepali sexworkers. Manderson (1995b) describes similar discourses in depictions of the "innocent girls" within the Thai sex industry.

13. All names mentioned in the text are pseudonyms.

14. The Badi community are the lowest ranking Hindu caste in the area in which they reside, primarily in the Mid and Far Western Regions of Nepal. Originally an entertainment caste with the men playing music (typically madal, tabla and harmony) and singing whilst women danced at performances for traditional patrons (Bistaban), important people (thulo maanche) and for weddings and other such events in the region of Salyan in particular. During the winter "season" many groups would travel to the Tarai and India seeking work. Male members of the community also made madal (drums), fishing nets, chilim (pipes) and were well known for their fishing prowess. Political and economic changes from the early 1950s in combination with increased migration to the Tarai region and a reduction in interest in the music offered by Badi performers, created changed circumstances and it is from this period that most informants date the commencement of open sex work by Badi community women.

17. The self identification of Indian "untouchables" as dalit, in contrast to other Indian appelations, such as Gandhi’s term harijan (Children of God) and governmental categories such as Scheduled Castes, has also been adopted within Nepal - with both individuals and organisations utilising the term. For example the Dalit Welfare Organisation and the Dalit NGO Federation are active at both a central and a district level. A book written by Dr Ambedkar (1946), the Indian dalit leader, was in circulation in the area of Western Nepal in which I was working. See Joshi 1996 for a collection of poetry, songs and essays from Indian dalit writers and on the development of the Dalit Liberation movement in India. See also Vishwakarma 1997 on the need for a dalit "reservation system" to effect change in the Nepali social and political structure and Joshi 1996 on dalit status in Nepal and some discussion on dalit NGOs. Hšfer 1979 describes the formalisation and institution of the Nepali caste system within the state framework dating from the Muluki Ain (the national legal code) of 1854.

16. See Ennew et al. 1996 on discourses which share the language of "social evil", that is, "behaviour or ideas that are contrary to and damaging for national culture" in Vietnam, Cambodia and China.

17. See Pigg 1992 on representations of national constructions of development and modernity, particularly through the utilisation of such social categories as the generic Nepali village. Stacy Pigg discusses the social construction of the "villager" as played out through understanding/ignorance and backwardness.

18. Dhampur is a pseudonym for a village situated in Bardia District of the Mid Western region of Nepal. During the period of fieldwork the community consisted of around 29 households. My household survey in November 1997 showed that 14 households had male members absent as migrant workers, primarily in Bombay, while 17 households had economic support from women’s sex work (pesaa). After the festival season of 1998, three older women left the village for a first attempt to seek work in Bombay where their sons and/or husbands were resident as migrant workers.

  

19. In August 1998 at the Second National Conference on AIDS, peer educators and field workers from two NGOs working with sex workers were able to attend a national conference for the first time. One field worker, a retired CSW, gave a paper presentation on the work undertaken in her field. Obviously, this was a very formal occasion but it may perhaps be a beginning in terms of women from this profane background being able to have a space within public fora. A Badi Women's Network in Western Nepal also suggests future possibilities in terms of women working in the sex industry coming together to focus on their needs and rights.

____________________________________________________________

FOOTNOTES:

Kane's study of "recognised" and "quasi-prostitution" in Belize, which details the problematics and ambiguities of a homogenised representation of the old dichotomy between "good" girls and "bad" girls, is illustrative of the blurred boundaries within sexual landscapes (Kane 1993:974). Her discussion stresses the need for focusing research on the "kinds of situations in which HIV may be transmitted between groups, rather than the types of groups that may be at risk" (Kane 1993:977).

2 Anthropological fieldwork was conducted in Nepal 1996-1998 with support from a University of Queensland Postgraduate Research Scolarship and the Australian Centre for International & Tropical Health & Nutrition. Fieldwork in Western Nepal would not have been possible without the assistance of many organisations and individuals. I am particularly grateful for the support offered by SAFE (Social Awareness for Education), an NGO based in Nepalganj, Banke District. SAFE director, Dilip Pariyar and staff members Suklal Nepali, Sunil Pariyar, Asok Nepali, Manju Nepali, Saguni Nepali and Hasila Nepali all offered critical insights to the fieldwork process. Kamal and Hira Nepali Arjun Nepali and Lal Bahadur Nepali, of CSG (Community Support Group) a CBO based in Satti, Kailali District, provided family, friendship and support during fieldwork at a village level. The Badi communities in which I lived and worked offered me extraordinary kindness, patience and hospitality and I particularly thank Sukmeli Nepali, Padmi Nepali, Jaipuri Nepali and Durgesh Nepali. Discussions over countless coffees with Sushima Joshi allowed development of some of the understandings expressed within this paper and I am very grateful to her for innumerable expressions of love and support.

3 The National Centre for AIDS and STD Control notes in its STD Case Management Guidelines that little data is available on STD rates for Nepal. A recent survey revealed that 4.7% of 1,802 pregnant women in urban centres of Nepal had had previous syphilis infection whilst 1.3% had acute syphilis. Further, "anecdotal evidence suggests that STDs are common and review of gynaecology department records show that diagnoses often associated with STD complications are frequent" (NCASC 1997:1). Since the early 1990s an increasing amount of foreign aid has focused on HIV/AIDs prevention programmes which have included condom use promotion, for example the USAID funding to the AIDS Prevention and Control Project (AIDSCAP) implemented in the Central Development Region from 1993-1997 and to the Nepal Contraceptive Retail Sales (CRS) Company. CRS’s retail strategy includes selling condoms from non-traditional outlets such as tea and paan shops (personal communication Binod Bhd. Katri, Managing Director, CRS Company).

4 See for example Osmond et al. (1993:101) on the "multiple jeopardy" to HIV transmission wrought by such dynamics as gender, poverty and ethnicity.

5 The growth, over the last seven years, of NGOs is primarily related to political conditions within Nepal after the Jana Andolan (People's Movement) of 1990 created a multi-party political system; the changed political circumstances have allowed greater freedom in various fields (see Brown 1996 and Hoftun & Raeper 1992 for political history of the Jana Andolan). Prior to 1990, all NGOs were strictly regulated and monitored by the Social Services National Co-ordination Council (SSNCC) and, while NGOs still need to register with their local District Administration Office and the national body, there has been a dramatic expansion in the number of local NGOs. The increase in the number of NGOs registered with the national NGO coordinating organization, the Social Welfare Council (SWC), was from approximately 200 in 1990 to more than 7,000 by mid 1995 and an estimated 25,000 plus by late 1997 (Brown 1996:68; Hannum 1997:59). Over time, international donor agencies have shifted major amounts of funding to NGOs and, indeed, post Jana Andolan, there was possibly a growth in NGOs created for the purpose of attracting foreign funding (Hannum 1997:59; Janssen 1994; Seddon 1995:9). In a recent paper critical of foreign aid, Kanak Mani Dixit argued that NGOs in Nepal "are created to access funds that become available" (1997:181). See also Fujikura 1996 for discussion on bikas (development) and international (primarily American) involvement in aid programmes in Nepal since the early 1950s. In 1990, Shanta Basnet Dixit related that "not one non-governmental group in Nepal had shown sustained interest in understanding and combating AIDS"(Dixit 1990:28) while a recent AMFAR (American Foundation for AIDS Research) publication noted that none of the 17 NGOs funded by them in 1993 had any in-depth experience working in the field of HIV/AIDS (Hannum 1997). Since that time a growing number of NGOs have focused on HIV/AIDS issues (see Khadka 1997 for a sense of popular criticism of governmental and NGO efforts in HIV/AIDS prevention in Nepal).

6 See Ennew et al. 1996 on the uniqueness of the discourse on the "girl child" to South Asia.

7 Discussing the post 1993 period when a large amount of HIV/AIDS funding became available to 17 NGOs through the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AMFAR), one NGO professional noted "We just didn’t know in the early days…there was not enough material at that time and we looked at material from the US and Africa…We did literal translations that no-one understood…(In) trying to find decent words we found phrases and never used Nepali words (that applied)…(We) didn’t have time and translated literally and made another set of words…while Nepali is such a rich language in terms of marriages and love relationships" (personal communication Dr Rajendra Bhadra, Project Co-ordinator, B.P. Memorial Health Foundation). Many NGO informants expressed their initial embarassment (laaj) when confronted with the "boldness" of sex and sexuality "trainings" and I observed one training in which the mixed sex group shifted uncomfortably when asked to name the wooden dildo held aloft by the faclitator, until someone called out that it was a "penis." Indeed, most informants felt more comfortable with English language words when discussing sex while, in this training, the descriptive word finally settled on was the sanscritised and religiously sanctioned word linga, rather than more common or vernacular Nepali words for penis, such as lado. A further incident at this particular training in the Mid Western Region is illustrative of the cultural problematics encountered at the nexus of globally established development practice, HIV/AIDS projects and local constructions of sexualities: during the initial "icebreaker" in which "desensitisation"games with condoms are usually played, two of the women present refused to blow up their condoms as they were engaged in a day of religious fasting.

8 Until recently, prostitution has been little researched by serious academics despite its powerful symbolic positioning within representations of the female. This disinterest may be linked to dualistic European notions regarding illicit sexual activity and the philosophical traditions that privilege the mind over the body. Further, scholars share the dominant ideologies and those who researched stigmatised behaviour were equally stigmatised by other scholars. Vance (1991: 875) confirms this view in her discussion of the role of anthropology in sexuality studies, noting that anthropology has shared the cultural understanding that sexuality is not a valid field of study and that the researcher's motives and character are somehow suspect due to the anxieties inherent in the "dangerous and marginalised nature of the study of sexuality." It is from marginal groups and other disciplines, such as history, that a social constructionist rather than an essentialist view of such categories as "the homosexual" and "the prostitute" developed over the last two decades (ibid.: 875). Within the field of history, a social constructionist view has been taken by writers such as Weeks (1981) and Katz (1976) in arguing that social categories and identities such as "homosexuality" are socially constructed and historically contingent - distinguishing between behaviour which may be universal and identity which is mediated by time and space (Chauncey et al. 1991: 5; Vance 1991: 877).

9 The practice and politics of sex research in general has had a problematic history with much of the early discussion of sexuality, in terms of AIDS research, reliant on such data as the Kinsey reports, compiled almost fifty years ago (Parker 1992:225). Further, cultural notions of gendered roles and behaviour colour and bias the basic givens of the field, for example, the category "prostitute" has been based more on the locale or sites of work and stereotypes of the women involved. In contrast to their clients, prostitutes are framed within a fixed identity, related solely to their work.

10 See Allen (1990) on the range of Nepali representations of the female and Bennett (1983) on the tensions and oppositions implicit between the roles of sister and wife.

11Since mid 1997, a small coalition of Nepali women activists, lawyers, INGO and NGO representatives has come together with the aim of collating and disseminating material which both contests and expands the simplistic and sensationalist discourses which have dominated popular culture, NGO and media representations of trafficking and prostitution. I include the following long quote as it exemplifies almost all of the, at times, contradictory nuances expressed in the mythic narrative on prostitution in Nepal – a narrative field fractured by dualistic images of women as both the victims of male wiles and lusts and as seductresses with a fashionable bent for western luxuries:

(M)any girls from the hills of North-East India…are passed off as girls from Nepal, such is the attraction of the fair skinned girls from Nepal in the Indian flesh market. Most of these girls are sold by their near and so-called dear ones…In some cases, the unfortunate girls are kidnapped by truck drivers of transport companies plying between Nepal and India. Many of them are tied by their hands and mouths and dumped mercilessly in trucks. The life of Nepali girls in Bombay’s prostitute dens is like hell. The girls who refuse to adopt this profession are tortured both physically and mentally. The brothel owners have rented ‘goondas’ who repeatedly rape them. Some of them are starved for days togethher and these helpless girls finally succumb to the various pressures. It is really disgusting to stroll through these areas because we can see these girls attracting the passer-by through various indecent gestures. They can be heard making dirty jokes among themselves – they are probably trying to learn to resign to their fate (sic) (Thapa 1996).
 

The author goes on to suggest that Bombay’s film world has "lured" educated girls of "decent" families to become "call girls" in Bombay. He further outlines that Arabs in Bombay seek out Nepali girls who are known as "very timid and obedient" and that there are "rumours that some of these girls have died due to unnatural sex practices but such cases are never reported to the police." Additionally:

In Nepal…this profession is blooming and spreading in almost every town of Nepal. There are students, housewives and girls from villages following this profession due to various compulsions. Though some of the most important reasons are finacial problems and a yearning for fashion…If this trend goes unchecked, it will spread like an epidemic in the whole Nepali society. Every Nepali should rise to the occasion before it destroys the very fabric of our society (ibid).

Additionally the soft core and voyeuristic allure of such articles cannot be denied as is evidenced by the range of articles on prostitution and sexuality in the daily and weekly papers (see for example Pradhan 1997a:2; Pradhan 1997b:2; Rajbhandari 1997:3).

12 See for example Pradhan (1992:41-49) and Subedi (1994:4-14) for Nepali examples of this genre and Larmer & Roberts (1994:27) and McGirk (1996:4-5) for accounts from overseas journalists on the plight of Nepali sexworkers. Manderson (1995b) describes similar discourses in depictions of the "innocent girls" within the Thai sex industry.

13 Any names mentioned in the text are pseudonyms.

14 The Badi community are the lowest ranking Hindu caste in the area in which they reside, primarily in the Mid and Far Western Regions of Nepal. Originally an entertainment caste with the men playing music (typically madal, tabla and harmony) and singing whilst women danced at performances for traditional patrons (Bistaban), important people (thulo maanche) and for weddings and other such events in the region of Salyan in particular. During the winter "season" many groups would travel to the Tarai and India seeking work. Male members of the community also made madal (drums), fishing nets, chilim (pipes) and were well known for their fishing prowess. Political and economic changes from the early 1950s in combination with increased migration to the Tarai region and a reduction in interest in the music offered by Badi performers, created changed circumstances and it is from this period that most informants date the commencement of open sex work by Badi community women.

15 The self identification of Indian "untouchables" as dalit, in contrast to other Indian appelations, such as Gandhi’s term harijan (Children of God) and governmental categories such as Scheduled Castes, has also been adopted within Nepal - with both individuals and organisations utilising the term. For example the Dalit Welfare Organisation and the Dalit NGO Federation are active at both a central and a district level. A book written by Dr Ambedkar 1946, the Indian dalit leader was in circulation in the area of Western Nepal in which I was working. On a long bus trip, a dalit fellow passenger and I perused his battered photocopy of this text. At the time of my fieldwork, 2 members of a self-described dalit NGO came to the village in which I was resident and we experienced the somewhat absurd scenario of the three of us sitting in a small mud dwelling interviewing one woman. See Joshi 1996 for a collection of poetry, songs and essays from Indian dalit writers and on the development of the Dalit Liberation movement in India. See also Vishwakarma 1997 on the the need for a dalit "reservation system" to effect change in the Nepali social and political structure and Joshi 1996 on dalit status in Nepal and some discussion on dalit NGOs. Höfer 1979 describes the formalisation and institution of the Nepali caste system within the state framework dating from the Muluki Ain (the national legal code) of 1854.

16See Ennew et al. 1996 on discourses which share the language of "social evil", that is, "behaviour or ideas that are contrary to and damaging for national culture" in Vietnam, Cambodia and China.

17 See Pigg 1992 on representations of national constructions of development and modernity, particularly through the utilisation of such social categories as the generic Nepali village. Stacy Pigg discusses the social construction of the "villager" as played out through understanding/ignorance and backwardness.

18 Dhampur is a pseudonym for a village situated in Bardia District of the Mid Western region of Nepal. During the period of fieldwork the community consisted of around 29 households. My household survey in November 1997 showed that 14 households had male members absent as migrant workers, primarily in Bombay, while 17 households had economic support from women’s sex work (pesaa). After the festival season of 1998, three older women left the village for a first attempt to seek work in Bombay where their sons and/or husbands were resident as migrant workers.

19 In August 1998 at the Second National Conference on AIDS, peer educators and field workers from two NGOs working with sex workers were able to attend a national conference for the first time. One field worker, a retired CSW, gave a paper presentation on the work undertaken in her field. Obviously, this was a very formal occasion but it may perhaps be a beginning in terms of women from this profane background being able to have a space within public fora. A Badi Women’s Network in Western Nepal also suggests future possibilities in terms of women working in the sex industry coming together to focus on their needs and rights.

____________________


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