Caste Blocks Revamp of Nepal's Sex Workers - IPS ipsnews.net
South Asia’s rigid caste system once defined the occupation that people could engage in and Badis formed one group that has been unable to find its way out of an unfortunate position on the social ladder. "We didn’t want to continue with prostitution but the government has failed to fulfill its promises of rehabilitation," says Bishal Nepali, husband of a Badi sex worker. The word ‘badi’ is a corruption of the Sanskrit word ‘vadyabadak’, meaning one who plays a musical instrument, and suggests a degradation in the status of the caste over time. Badis, estimated to number 50,000, live in the western districts of Nepal but find work in the towns and cities of Nepal and neighbouring India, including Kathmandu, Mumbai and New Delhi.
Four years ago the Nepal government banned the Badis from pursuing their traditional occupation after it came under pressure from local communities fearing that the districts where there were Badi concentrations were turning into red light areas.
But, the government made no move to implement the ban, with the result that local communities formed monitoring groups backed by vigilantes that used violent methods to compel the Badis to give up their sole means of livelihood.
"We defied the ban and continued with our traditional occupation. How could we survive without incomes? Think about our children," says Kalpana Badi, 35, who like many others uses a surname that readily identifies her caste and her profession.
The government did announce a package that included housing, income generation activities and scholarships for Badi children, but these were never implemented.
"This has been a very frustrating process. We don’t know why the government has been so indifferent. The Badis are in a desperate situation," says Uma Badi, a prominent activist and one of a handful of college-educated Badi women. "Most Badis are uneducated and have no farms or livestock," Uma explained.
Badis were denied citizenship until 2005 when the Supreme Court ordered the government to grant it to them and also extend financial support. According to a study published in 1992 by Thomas Cox, an anthropologist then attached to Kathmandu's Tribhuvan University, Badi girls "from early childhood, know, and generally accept the fact, that a life of prostitution awaits them." Badi girls, the study said, do not get married and commonly bear the children of their clients.
Cox recorded that upper caste Nepali society gives little encouragement to Badi girls to pursue other professions and those among them who enter public schools are "often severely harassed by high caste students."
Two decades after Cox's study, the Badis, as members of an ‘untouchable’ Dalit (meaning broken people) caste, are still not permitted use of the village water pump or well and their situation may have worsened.