Dancing Boys: Traditional Prostitution of Young Males in India

Dancing Boys: Traditional Prostitution of Young Males in India

Dancing Boys: Traditional Prostitution of Young Males in India

The sexual abuse and exploitation of children and young people is a worldwide phenomenon (Ireland, 1993). Several studies have attempted to understand the extent and severity of the phenomenon, emphasizing different aspects thereof: be it psychological deviance or socioeconomic facets. There is sufficient evidence as gathered from organizations working with children, young people, sexuality and rights projects and from government to demonstrate that there is extensive exploitation of children and young people in India. The evidence suggests an existence of systematic and organized patterns in child and young people exploitation.

Invariably the studies pertaining to eastern India have highlighted the factors like poverty, unemployment and mass illiteracy as “push” factors, forcing children and young people to a vulnerable situation of exploitation.

In India adolescents and young gender variant boys, male with feminine demeanor that is effeminate males/ males with feminine gender construction are victims of social stigma and gross human rights violations, and as a result face serious barriers to joining mainstream occupations. This has led to a situation where, in the absence of any other alternative, many join the “hijra” (eunuch) community and undergo illegal, secret and crude castration operations at great risk to their lives. Anecdotal evidence puts the number of deaths due to castration at 50% of those operated upon by Dai, quacks and “surgeons” with questionable credentials. In alternative they join the troop as a Luanda dancer- the traditional dancing boys and migrate to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and in the name of dancing in the rituals forced into prostitution and face brutal violence. Their livelihood option as Hijra or as folk entertainers put them at grave risk of physical assaults and violence, sometimes leading to death, sexual harassment, sexual abuse and rape, other hate crimes and increasingly now, risk of HIV infection. In spite of traditionally accepted but marginal social space from ancient times and a visible presence during festivals, celebrations and public ceremonies, this boys have never been recognized as a vulnerable and at risk population with special needs with regard to basic rights of survival, development and protection as laid out in the United nations convention on the rights of the child (UNCRC).

These adolescent boys and young adults are not allowed the opportunities that other children and other young people have during that development stage. Not being able to go to school and not having had any opportunity of learning or utilizing skills, these boys do not have the benefit of any productive time to themselves. This is further aggravated by their proximity to their own gender and sexual expression and orientation. These boys are at an age when the costs of migration and prostitution are not completely comprehended but the visible benefits are observed. This makes them extremely vulnerable to being attracted to the proposition of supporting the family through prostitution and unsafe migration. Further, these boys already having low self-esteem and subjected to constant sharing of responsibilities cannot realize the full impact of their own victimization by their peer, neighbors. They cannot protest against any physical or sexual abuse or violation of their rights being carried out against them because they find this is part of life and being. Most of these boys are found helpless human beings by virtue of the opportunities they have been denied during their upbringing.

Sexual exploitation of children and young people has long been seen as an issue in South Asia, but it is often viewed as being limited to girls. Consequently, the prostitution of boys is little understood, despite its acknowledged existence in some parts of South Asia including India.

Even though there is an awareness of sexual exploitation of children and young boys by tourists in places such as the south Indian beach resort of Goa and Mahabalipuram, few studies have been conducted on the prostitution and sexual exploitation of males and their local exploiters in India. There are several reasons for this lack of research. First, the prostitution of males is unrecognized and a taboo subject in Indian societies, and thus, cases involving the sexual exploitation of boys are frequently underreported and shrouded in silence. A very few programmes address the prostitution of males in India because males are perceived as less emotionally or physically harmed by prostitution than girls, and therefore, are seen as not needing special attention and services. Most interventions in India that related to the sexual exploitation of males are focused on HIV/AIDS awareness work.

The most direct consequence of not addressing the problem is in terms of the continuous inflow of young boys into this profession and lack of proper information. Besides the illegal activity of child and youth prostitution being precipitated, there are children and young adult being subjected to the dangers of innumerable health hazards and to various types of sexual abuse and exploitation including unsafe migration.

Another direct consequence of not addressing the issue of vulnerability of these young dancers is the existing law to address same sex relationship as well as sexual violence and harassment for men.

Attending to the problem will result in providing that alternative for the adolescent boys away from the route of forced prostitution and unsafe migration. Further, they would be armed with adequate information of productive and unproductive behavior, safer sex knowledge and knowledge about sexuality and their consequences. They would be equipped with a better capacity to judge the consequences of entering the profession in terms of its costs vis-à-vis its seeming benefits.

With that keep in mind PLUS recently conducted a study on the “Situational Assessment to explore vulnerability towards migration, sexual exploitation, trafficking, HIV, AIDS and STI’s and building linkages for establishing model intervention” to develop means to protect those vulnerable target group mostly adolescents and young gender variant boys with feminine demeanor or traits of Eastern India. The study was supported by United Nation Development Program India country office through there TAHA- Prevention of Trafficking, HIV and AIDS of women and girls, project.

The approach is participative, which means that both individuals and as part of networks/organizations, was actively involved in protection their own rights. PLUS aim to provide the space, a safe space. At last our aim is to empower the group through a process whereby individuals and groups gain control over their lives and act to eliminate and/ or reduce further right violations.

The study was conducted among 400 respondents from areas in almost twenty-two districts in three respective states of West Bengal, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh. The primary respondents are young gender variant boys of feminine demeanor are mostly from West Bengal belonging mainly in the average age group of 15 to 25 years who migrate to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for performing traditional culture. They are called as “launda dancer”.

The laundas of Bihar And UP define and spice up the entertainment barometer at the marriages in the Hindi heartland. But deep within they nurse broken hearts and bruised bodies. They are the young torch bearers of an age – old popular tradition – upholders of the launda naach, an integral part of the weddings in northern India, especially Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where weddings are elaborate affairs with a fair rustic dose of merrymaking, drinking, music and dance. Here young effeminate boys dance in marriage procession and ceremonies, dressed in women’s clothing.

Laundas (young boys) used to be hired by poor families that could not afford more expensive women dancers. Gradually launda naach became very popular and an intrinsic part of marriage ceremonies especially in feudal areas of Bihar and UP. The dancers are mainly belongs to the lower middle class and poor families mainly from West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Maharastra and also from Nepal and Bangladesh via West Bengal. They come to Bihar and UP during the peak marriage season between April and June in summer and December to February in winter.

Orchestra companies hire launda dancers on a lump sum contract, in addition to free food and lodging. But they give the dancers only fraction of the amount they mint through them. The other mode of payment is through cash given at the end of each session. A performer could earn 6000/- to 12000/- on a three-month contract depending on the dancer’s look, grace and dancing abilities. But the dancers point out they often gets less than their contractual fess, sometimes nothing at all.

The groom’s family usually hires the dancers. They have to dance all the way to the girl’s family along with the baraat (groom’s entourage). In rural areas this journey could stretch across several miles and span numerous villages. After going to the bride’s house, they get to rest briefly during dinner, after which begins the climax item through the LAGGAN (marriage) ceremony.

It could start late in the evening and continue non-stop until dawn. Even if they feel tired they cannot stop as they are physically prodded to carry on, with pinpricks on the body. At times drinking water has been refused. As the night progress the songs become risqué, complemented by vulgar and obscene body movements. By this time drunken men at the weeding party hurl abuse at the dancers. The dancers now become vulnerable to physical and sexual assaults. Often there back was slashed with blades, when they were dancing wearing backless cholis. Often they were bitten and sank or stubbed.

A group of 10 to 15 men could physically carry a dancer to a field and gang rape him, and this is very common trend. They have faced torture all the occasions. Resistance only leads to grater torture and sometimes-even death.

Most of them are semi literate and come from poor backgrounds, some are educated and prefer to dance rather than become the butt of ridicule at work place. Within South Asia, male sex workers operating at public sites are primarily koti1 -identified, but not exclusively so. Most are from low-income groups where poverty and support for their families drive much of their sex work. In other words, there several frameworks of male sex work. But the common part of all is violence.

Men are attracted to Luanda dancing mainly by the money and the freedom to express their womanly instincts away from the jibes of relatives and neighbors. In spite of the risk involved very few actually wants to quite the seasonal profession because lack of alternatives.

Luanda dancers are often treated as objects of lust. Living condition is generally filthy and deplorable. They are being put up in the out houses, which are thatched shacks, often shared with goats and cows. The food was offered is equally poor. Sanitation is non-existent. Even that is also risky for getting assaulted in the field.

More over awareness about sexually Transmitted Diseases, HIV and AIDS and the safer sex is virtually non-existent the dancers and those who abuse them. No body use condoms, No awareness, no availability and no negotiation. Myths are still living and they love to believe that having sex with virgin children will cure them of STD’s and augment their sexual virility. In part of rural Bihar and UP Men satisfy their wild sexual urges with these effeminate young men for several reason because, they are available, identifies, social ally sanctioned for prostitution purpose and having sex with them proves the mardangi. It is a matter of great prestige in the feudal set up to keep launda in the house and is treated as a sign of virility and power.

After the season these boys are divided into groups. New boys or not so experienced boys back to home but others may stay back or travel other part of the country with peer for joining local seasonal celebrations.

Often live-in laundas end up becoming unpaid slaves, doing menial household chores, including looking after their man’s children. Thus he not only becomes his owner’s sex slave but also has to entertain his friends. However after some years of providing constant physical gratification and sexual service when they lose or fall prey to some sexually transmitted disease, they are cast away.

The findings also show that many misconceptions about the migration of adolescents and young boys for sexual exploitation remain and are firmly rooted in the continuing view that it is an issue related solely to homosexuality and child sex tourism. On the other hand they also underscore the overall vulnerability of all children, boys and girls, to be targeted by adults who seek to exploit them as sexual objects and demonstrate that those committing such crimes are largely individuals from the local heterosexual population and not solely homosexual men or tourists. While it is difficult to quantify the magnitude of the problem due to the lack of reporting or misreporting of cases, the studies nevertheless suggest that it is much bigger problem than previously recognized and that exploiters are local men and in some cases local women.

The research undertaken in the three states provides a window for understanding the stereotyped gender constructions, which underpin concepts of adolescents and young people’s protection, as related to male. That is, they show that our understanding about male roles and the myths that surround them – i.e. that boys must be tough and defend themselves being careful not to show any sign of weakness– have created barriers and led to inadequate protection of boy children including a social blindness in relation to their experiences of sexual exploitation and sexual violence. In this regard the findings clearly demonstrate that the unequal power relations, which create vulnerability of children and young people to sexual exploitation by exploitative adults can and do affect boys and girls in all environments.

Clearly, the issue of unsafe migration, sexual exploitation of young gender variant males is serious one that has not received the adequate attention. This study recommends that national, state and local governments and NGOs recognize the issue and allot the necessary resources to tackle it. Measures should include the creation of services for boys vulnerable to prostitution, or engaged in prostitution, unsafe migration and sexual exploitation with particular focus on unsafe castration including short-term re-ability cum shelter home and HIV/AIDS prevention projects. Governments and NGOs also need to establish a network to help identify and counsel vulnerable children. Peer educators need to be trained and deployed as part of efforts to reach boys vulnerable and involved in prostitution. Finally, NGOs and government officials must take steps towards preventing other children from falling prey to sexual exploitation, including sexual health education, vocational training and microfinancing. Traditionalist may proudly declare how the dance parties of Bihar and UP are keeping alive in age old tradition through the launda naach ceremonies, hard facts call for urgent intervention and rehabilitation of these talented young impressionable boys who risk daily humiliation and even death, while providing casual moments of cheap entertainment.

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