Reform or you shall not operate. This is the tone of the government on reopening of the lucrative drayang business in the country. The entertainment business has remained closed since last year. After the successful second dose vaccination campaign, there is pressure from the business to let it operate.
There are 59 drayangs in the capital city which employed hundreds and are now rendered jobless after the closure of the business. The forced closure had provided ample time and opportunities for operators to reform the business. If they have not, it is a lost opportunity. The business part is secondary. It benefits only a few or outweighs the social problem.
Drayangs, whether operators agree or not, is not a respectable business. It is associated with sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation of young girls. If there are no reforms or if drayangs are not agreeing to the standard operating procedures the government came out with, it is better they remain shut for greater benefits. Income or employment alone should not be the basis when young women are exploited.
There are enough reasons. Even studies have suggesting that it is not a good business, even if the operators disagree or are unaware. The way drayangs are operated is not healthy if not morally wrong. The SOP, the government developed, asks drayangs to transform into a dignified and safe entertainment centre.
The business, initially started as an entertainment business has been turned into a place where, to put it bluntly, men come looking for sex or opportunities. The environment is such that it encourages harassment way beyond the business hours.
That drayang preserves and promotes culture is a misconception. The choice of songs, the dance are nothing Bhutanese. The dress, the songs and dances has to match the mood. Many perform in skin-tight kiras and tegos to fit the environment. In the bordering towns, it is seen as a place to pick up young girls. Innocent girls are lured by the Nu 40,000 to 50,000 they earn a month, many do not know that they are exploited.
The SOP or the reforms suggested are not hard to follow. It is about doing away with tactics that make girls vulnerable, for instance, not coming into direct contact with men for “requests” or maintaining a safe distance between the performers and the clients.
The changes the government recommended might be hard on operators, but they will protect the vulnerable. Why can we not make our drayang a place where a family could come relax, eat and see some dances. Why do we make fun of each other when we say we went to a drayang. The image is that of a place where men only visit for sexual adventures.
Regulations had not helped too. Forcing drayangs to the basement of buildings was like forcing the business underground. Why can’t we have a drayangs on any floor with proper sound proof systems and a decent environment.
The government is ready to help the operators with loans for infrastructure reforms, finding employment for drayang employees, and even compensate losses from the business closure if they cannot reform and choose to close shop. The pandemic has provided the right opportunity. Most in the business, because of the income, will not care about the larger issue. It is the responsibility of decision makers to intervene. They had. They should not budge and lose the opportunity by bending under the pressure of operators.