theatre fights girl-trafficking*
Against their will, girls and young women from rural Nepal are coerced into prostitution. Transported across borders and estranged from people and languages they know, they are pressed into slavery in the miserable brothels of India. The magnitude of the girl-trafficking problem is staggering as, annually, more than five thousand Nepali women are kidnapped, lured, tricked, sold, and married into the business of sex. His Majesty's Government maintains that the number of Nepali prostitutes in India is nearly 200,000, though exact figures are impossible to obtain.
Nepal's theatre community has turned its spotlight onto the girl-trafficking crisis, and troupes of dedicated artist/activists battle this problem using theatre as their only weapon. To raise awareness and mobilize policy makers, police, and the general public toward stopping the sale of girls and young women for sex, actors portray the causes and consequences of the girl-trafficking dilemma. In Nepal, the rural literacy level is extremely low, poverty is rampant, electricity is scarce, terrain is arduous, and roads are few. Consequently, live, mobile, entertaining, and free theatre proves a powerful means of raising awareness about issues, such as domestic prostitution and girl-trafficking, which have few alternative routes of discourse.
While Nepal's current system of prostitution and girl trafficking has complex origins, it also has historical precedents; culture and religion have played significant roles in the development of the sex trade. The deuki, for example, in practice for hundreds of years, is the tradition of offering girls to temples to appease deities or gain their favor. An impoverished family may give their daughter to a temple or may sell her to a wealthy family, who will dedicate her to temple service. In either case, the poor family is rid of the responsibility of raising and marrying off their daughter, and both they and the wealthy family gain merit and honor for the sacrifice they have made. While deukis may be held in respect for their implied relationship to the deities, they are generally not given financial support. Burdened by the common conception that deukis should not become wives, these temple
* I am grateful to the Asian Cultural Council for the generous support that enabled me to
conduct research for this article in Kathmandu.