Usha Drukpa & Sonam Dorji, Thimphu
It is 9.00 pm. It is drizzling slightly. Thimphu residents are about to get into their beds. But for Wangmo, the day has just begun.
She makes a few calls and waits. After sometime, four girls and two boys reach her shabby room. Wangmo introduces the two boys as the girl friends of two of the girls. “Let’s go. Ashim will again shout at us,” Sonam, one of the girls say. The five leave for their works. We ask Wangmo if it is fine for us to go along with them. Wangmo turns to the two boys.
“Who are you,” Karma, one of the boys asks. We introduce ourselves as reporters, who are very anxious to know about Thimphu’s night life. “Why do you want to know and what will we get,” the other boy asks. “We can help you,” I say. Both burst out laughing. “Many people have said the same thing. Pay us Nu 5,000 and we will take you around,” Karma says. We negotiate and agree for Nu 4,000. “But we want assurance that you will not name us, reveal our location and places we go to or use our pictures,” he says. By then it is around 10.00 pm and Wangmo receives a call“We are going la. It is fine la. Las Ashim,” she says and turns to her friends. “See. I get the scolding because of you,” she says.
Led by Wangmo, we begin our journey into Thimphu’s dark world, where the world’s oldest profession, prostitution has snowballed. En-route, Wangmo collects Nu 1,000 each from the other girls. I ask what it is for and she says that it is for their “Ashim.”
We enter one of Thimphu’s most popular discos. But Karma and his friend stay behind. “If there is any problem, just call. We will be around,” he tells the girls.
Inside the disco, the girls meet several friends, girls and boys. We ask for a juice and a beer, sit and watch the crowd dancing to the latest disco music. After a few minutes, Sonam leaves the dancing floor and come to our table. We offer her a bottle of Spy wine. “What do you exactly want to know?” she questions. “Everything about the flesh trade,” we say. “It will take very long, but I will tell you in short,” Sonam says. “Everyone will say the same thing that I am saying,” she continues.
Sonam then narrates her story; about how her step father mistreated her; her journey to Thimphu; the troubles and pains looking for a job and finally her entry into the business. “I had no options,” she says, adding that there are hundreds of her kind, especially in Thimphu and Phuentsholing. “Some are single mothers and there are even civil servants, who are not able to meet their ends and so get into this profession,” she adds.
I take a deep breath and ask her how much she charges her clients and how they meet clients. Sonam smiles and says. “It depends. There is no fixed rate as such, but we charge based on the position of the clients.” Sonam reveals that twice in a week they need to pay Nu 1,000 to “Ashim.” “She finds clients for us and during such times, we have to pay 25 percent of our earnings,” she confides.
“Nothing for me,” a voice from behind says. It is Wangmo and we offer her a bottle of Tiger beer. “What nonsense did Sonam tell you,” she says, laughing. Sonam tells her what we spoke about and Wangmo comments. “Exactly! Everyone will have the same story,” she reiterates.
“It is time to move to the Gold Mine,” Wangmo says, the beer’s affects showing on her visage. The other three girls join us and we start to walk, Wangmo leading us. She calls the two boys and says where we are going to. “I thought they are your boyfriends,” I say. “More than boy friends; they are our protectors. If we do not have them, people, including our own friends take advantage and even rob us,” Sonam says, adding that they pay the boys, too.
We reach the “Gold Mine,” another discotheque. The girls know everyone; beginning from the gate keeper to the owner. We see several men; some single and some in groups sitting on the couches. “Do you see the gold,” Sonam says, looking to one man and smiling. It does not take even 15 minutes for the five to sit next to their “Mines.” Gradually, four of the girls leave with a man each. Sonam is left behind. “Don’t think that I did not get a client. I am booked for three nights,” she says. We chit chat for some time and then RBP personnel enter the disco, reminding the owner that it is time to close shop. “I also need to go,” Sonam says. “I believe that we meet because of our Karma and I hope to meet you again,” she says, before departing. I and my colleague are left speechless. “Is it not like organized crime; the Ashim; Protectors and all,” he says. I remain silent.
Meanwhile, a police officer said that the RBP are aware of prostitution in Thimphu and some information has been gathered. However, proving it in the court of law is a major hurdle, he said, adding that without sufficient evidence, the cases could backfire.” But we are working very hard; day and night by patrolling and collecting information,” he added.
He said that the police do not want to damage the image of any individual. “If a girl is doing it on her own will, the police cannot say anything. This is the biggest challenge the police faces while proving that they are commercial sex workers,” he said, adding that prostitution is becoming an organized crime, which is very dangerous.
(Names have been changed)