The spectacle called drayangs

The concept of drayangs tends to conjure varying notions.

To some, the mere existence of drayangs threatens our culture and tradition while others argue that drayangs play a role in the promotion and preservation of these values.  Somehow, in this conversation that dwells from cultural to moral policing to image crisis, we appear to overlook the concerns of the women who work in these places.

Drawn from these social constructions of morals and culture, discussions on the women who perform in drayangs revolve on the spectacle, their choreography and acts of requesting songs that sexualise entertainment.  Be it in the parliament or the dzongkhag tshogdue, the agency of the woman, as an economic actor who works long and odd hours to make a living gets overlooked.

The recent workshop that RENEW organised for drayang employees and employers saw important issues raised. It was a good initiative for it created space for drayang employees to share their concerns. Drayang employees shared that they are as vulnerable, economically and sexually at work as they are after work. At work, they claim that they tolerate the exploitation. After work, they claim that walking home or taking a taxi becomes risky and expensive.

It is not that the society is not aware about this situation. Our policy makers and people in the farms and those in between including those who frequent the drayangs know that most of those who perform in drayangs are school dropouts, single mothers and or divorcees. While claiming to enjoy singing and dancing, many come from villages to make a living and help their families back home. Depending on their employment arrangements, they earn from Nu 6,000 a month to Nu 60,000 and have to share 50 percent of this with the owners.

Yet, we choose to not see and understand these issues. We harbour meanings and the construction of narratives given by those who perceive drayangs and its women employees as a social nuisance. And it is in such instances and frames that patriarchal expressions are embedded. But it becomes important for us to understand that if we, the spectators, choose to judge them by their work, we must accept that the circumstances that compelled them to seek employment in drayangs are also of our making.

For we have become a society that has started to see business opportunities in poverty and unemployment. We are as quick to blame modernity and socio-economic development in our analysis of the drayang culture as we are of the drayangs diluting our culture. At the same time licenses are being issued to operate drayangs. Records show that Thimphu has 13 of the 42 drayangs in the country.

It is however not to suggest that such concerns are not important or valid. They are but in raising these issues, the women and her agency, her right to work and be financially independent must not be diluted. The concerns the employees raised at the workshop point out several lapses in our monitoring agencies.

Authorities must ensure that the employees are paid well so that they are not exploited or tempted to indulge in activities that are perceived to be wrong. A start has been made. We must take it further for drayangs are as much an expression of our society as it has become a spectacle.

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