The Badi: Prostitution as a Social Norm Among an Untouchable Caste of West Nepal

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THE BADI: PROSTITUTION AS A SOCIAL
NORM AMONG AN UNTOUCHABLE
CASTE OF WEST NEPAL
THOMAS COX
Introduction
Badi are an untouchable Hindu caste, with a total population of approximately 7,000, who inhabit scattered settlements in the Salyan, Rolpa, Rukum, Dailekh, Seti, Jajarkot, Dang-Dekhuri, Banke and Bardiya Districts of west Nepal. Bali men fish (keeping most of the catch for their own family's consumption) and make drums and pipes, which they sell to Nepalese in neighboring communities. Badi women prostitute themselves, beginning at puberty and continuing until they become too old to attract any more customers, or get married. This article focuses on Badi prostitution, its practice, and social, economic, historical and cultural dimensions. The conclusions presented here are based on women, in the Districts of Bardiya, Banke and Dang-Dekhuri, between May, 1990 and May, 1992.

The first section of the paper gives a short history of prostitution in Badi society. The second section describes the socialization and day-to-day practice of prostitution. The third section focuses on the economics of prostitution. The fourth section looks at the relationship between Badi women -and men from other castes. The fifth section examines Badi social organization, family structure and marriage patterns. The sixth section concentrates on prostitute castes in India, and a possible historical connection between one of them and the Badi. The seventh section looks at the current status Of prostitution in Badi society. The eighth section discusses the implications in Badi society. The eighth section discusses the implications of this study for understanding the emotional consequences of prostitution.

A short History of Badi Prostitution
Badi originally came to west Nepal from India back in the fourteenth century, first settling in Salyan, and later in Rolpa, Rukum and Jajarkot. From the time of their settlement in Nepal, until the 1950's, Bali made their living as entertainers, travelling-in groups consisting of three or more families- from one community to the next, staging song and dance performances and telling stories from the great Hindu epics of the Mahabharat and Ramayana.I The Badi's travels often took them out of their home Districts, and as far east as Palpa, Baglung, Pokhara, Gorkha and Bandipur. Until the 1950's Badi were primarily supported by rulers of three principalities: Jajarkot, Salyan and Musikot,3 and to a lesser extent by some wealthy high caste landlords (see Regmi 1978 for a good description of the rulers and landlords who lived in west Nepal in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries). These patrons provided Badi with basic needs; housing, land, clothing and food. In return Badi provided them with entertainment and sex. At this time, however, Badi women limited their prostitution to patrons and some of their male relatives.' After the overthrow of the Rana regime, in 1950, and subsequent establishment of King Mahendra's panchayat government, rulers and landlords in west Nepal were stripped of much of their previous authority, and lost the right to tax subjects and exact unpaid labor and rent (on agricultural land) from them. As a result they lost much of their economic clout, and were unable to continue their patronage of Badi. Badi women, in an effort to make up their lost income, began prostituting themselves with an increasing number of men. This growing reliance on prostitution was encouraged, in the mid 1960's, by new accessibility (facilitated by a malaria erae: zation program) to Tulsipur, Ghorahi, Rajapur, Nepalgunj and other growing, populous terai towns with a large, expanding market for prostitutes. At the same time that the market for prostitutes was expanding, demand for singing and dancing was shrinking (as a result of the radios, movies and tape players which became increasingly available throughout the 1960's and 1970's), making Badi even more dependent on prostitution as a source of income....
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