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.
The Socialization and Day-to-Day Practice of Badi Prostitution Badi girls, from early childhood on, know, and generally accept the fact, that a life of prostitution awaits them. Their parents, and other Badi, tell them that prostitution is, and always has been, the work of women in the Badi caste, and that to aspire to any other profession would be unrealistic. Badi girls see all the young women around them, and often their own mothers and sisters, prostitute themselves on a daily basis. Indeed, they virtually ever see any Badi women engaging in any profession but prostitution. Badi girls also usually do not go to school, have little contact with outsiders, and, thus, are not exposed to many ideas, values or beliefs that counter those in their own society. Girls also learn early on that prostitution is the only means of support available to most Badi families. As Badi girls grow up they learn, from their mothers, sexually mature sisters (if they have any) and other Badi women, all about sex and how to dress and act in such a way as to attract men.
Within a few months after reaching menarche (at an average age of thirteen) Badi girls begin prostituting themselves. Somt girls start on their own, but most are prompted to begin by their parents. A Badi girl's first episode of sexual intercourse is accompanied by a ceremony know as nathiya kholne. During nathiya kholne the man gives the Badi girl new clothes, jewelry and a sum of money, which ranges between 1,000 and 5,000 rupees. Then the girl rubs a streak of vermilion powder (known as sindur) onto the man's head, and he does the same to her.
Then the man and Badi girl go off by themselves and he deflowers her. The nathiya kholne ceremony is similar to Nepalese Hindu weddings, where the groom bestows clothes and jewelry on the bride, and exchanges sindur with her, before eventually consummating the 'marriage. And in traditional Nepalese Hindu marriages, as in nathiya kholne the girl is supposed to be a virgin (see Bennett 1982 for a comprehensive discussion of Hindu weddings in Nepal).
The major difference between nathiya kholne and a Hindu marriage ceremony, is that the latter is meant to mark the beginning of a lifelong relationship, while in the former the couple usually separates after having sexual intercourse, with the Badi girl going on to prostitute herself with other men. Mothers play a major role in initiating their daughters into prostitution. In the beginning, mothers often offer the services of their own daughters to prospective clients, and personally handle the bargaining.
After a few months the girl usually feels confident enough to approach clients and bargain on her owns. But even at this stage Bach prostitution is still a "family affair," with girls continuing to prostitute themselves in their parent's home when a client arrives he will sometimes sit, and, over a glass of rakshi (homemade liquor), talk with the Badi girl and her parents. After awhile he will then take the girl to some other room in the house and have sex with her Since Badi prostitutes work openly, and congregate in specific wards, they are easily found.
Some men stay with a Badi girl for only an hour or so, while others remain with her for up to three days. Men from all walks of life come to Badi prostitutes as clients. They include engineers, truck drivers, teachers, policemen, farmers, students, contractors, agricultural technicians, shopkeepers and hotel owners. They may be local residents or come from India or Kathmandu. Badi girls from Bardiya, Dang, Seti, Salyan, Dailekh, Rolpa and Rukum often go to Nepalgunj for several months out of the year to prostitute themselves.
While working here some girls rent rooms, while others stay with relatives or in their own second house. Badi prostitutes are often accompanied on these trips by their parents, who cook, clean and do all the domestic chores to give their daughters the most time possible for prostitution. The Economics of Prostitution Badi girls usually charge their clients between 30 and 60 rupees for a single session of intercourse, and between 250 and 300 rupees for the whole night. They make anywhere between 3,000 to 7,000 rupees a month. Badi girls retain control over most of their earnings from prostitution.
When Badi parents (or other family members) need to buy food, clothing or anything else, they ask their prostitute daughters for money. But they rarely ask for all their earnings. Badi parents told me they were afraid to ask daughters for all their income, as they might become dissatisfied and run away. Income from prostitution is the Badi's primary source of support. 8 The money which Badi men make from selling drums or pipes is negligible. For this reason Badi prefer to have daughters and not sons. Some of my informants even told me about Badi women who had cried with disappointment after giving birth to a son.
Badi parents, in an effort to maintain their income from prostitution, often try to prevent their daughters from getting married. As a result, may Badi women who want to get married are forced to elope. In other cases Badi parents will let their daughters marry, but only after the man has agreed to compensate them for their lost income. If Badi parents have three or more prostitute daughters, they will sometimes allow one to marry, if income from the remaining girls is sufficient. In still other cases Badi parents with and, or other resources, are not so dependent on their daughter’s income, and thus will let them marry. The Badi Argot Badi have an argot, which they use to talk about prostitution in the presence of outsiders without being understood (see appendix one). A Badi girl will often use the argot to confer with her parents, or others, about whether to sleep with a particular man or what she should charge him. Badi also use their argot to talk about prostitution in buses, bazaars, shops, offices and other areas where there are people who might be able to overhear what they are talking about.
Badi Family Structure, Marriage Patterns and Social Organization Family Structure and Marriage Patterns Badi women, generally, do not use birth control, and, thus, usually have children by their clients. I2 Indeed, out of a sample of sixteen women, who had been prostituting themselves for 4 years or longer, fourteen had given birth to children by their clients. Of these, four women had one child each, six had two children apiece and four had three children each. 3 Out of these fourteen women three eventually married, while eleven others are currently raising their children alone. The children of Badi mothers and high caste (Brahman, Chetri or Thakuri) clients are generally considered -by other Nepalese to be Badi, even though descent in Nepal is patrilineal. For the children of high caste men and Badi women to be accorded a higher caste status, the father would have to admit paternity. But in the vast majority of cases high caste men, even when they know they have fathered a Badi women's child, will not admit it.
Badi women's attempts to bring paternity suits against high caste men are generally unsuccessful, for the judge usually says that since the woman is a prostitute, she has no way of knowing who the father of her child is. The majority of Badi prostitutes (whether they have children by their clients or not) are not able to get married. Men from other castes usually shun them, and even most Badi men will not marry them. Indeed, there is a rule in Badi society that men cannot marry prostitute girls who are the sole source of support for their families, as that would stop their prostitution and the income that it generates.
Thus, Badi men who marry women from their own caste, are usually only able to take spouses from families that have three or more daughters (so that the income from one will not be missed) and/or other resources (such as land, a profitable business or a well-paying job). 15 Approximately two-thirds of Badi men end up marrying women from (Shoemaker), or ICami-or Tharu women. I6 These women generally live (patrilocally) in their husband's home; and their children are raised as Badi, with the daughters usually prostituting themselves to the same extent as those who are offspring of Badi parents, in either one or two parent households.
Since the income generated from Badi men is so minimal, two parent Badi families usually depend on the earnings of prostitute daughters to the same extent as single, unmarried mothers. Social Organization Badi are organized into eight exogamous patrilineal clans. My informants claimed that these clans represent the descendants of Badi whO came from specific districts. The presence of the words Kami and Damai in two Badi clan names however, suggests that the origin of some Badi clans may lie in intermarriages between Badi and members of other castes (or other factors).
Badi clans include: Pyuthani, Rolpani; Kami Badi, Salyani, Sankoti, Chinal Damai, Purbiya Badi and Multami. The Current Status of Badi Prostitution The Nepalese' government has always considered Badi to be an embarrassment to the country. " Indeed, in an effort to end their prostitution, the government has given several Badi families agricultural land, and established a school for them in Nepalgunj. 19 There are currently seventy-three Badi students in the Nepalgunj school, forty-eight boys and twenty- five girls.
The school currently goes up to the fourth grade but there are plans to add more grades in the coming years. " However, most Badi girls in Nepalgunj who attend school eventually drop out and prostitute themselves. They see almost all other Badi girls around them working as prostitutes. Their parents, and other Badi, generally, still expect them to prostitute themselves, and they usually do not have many other options for generating income. Even when other jobs do become available they are usually rejected, because they do not pay as much as prostitution.
For example, officials from the National AIDS Prevention and Control Program attempted to hire several Badi girls to work as peer counsellors, to teach Badi prostitutes about the dangers presented by AIDS, and measures they could take to protect themselves against the disease. The peer counsellors were also supposed to encourage Badi girls to give up prostitution, by informing them about training and education programs, and employment opportunities (such as clothing and handicrafts production). But the officials were unable to find anyone to fill the positions.
All the Badi girls said that the positions did not pay enough, and that they could make much more money by prostituting themselves. Badi girls are also generally given little encouragement, from high caste Nepalese society, to enter professions other than prostitution, or even pursue their education. Badi girls who pass through their private school, and pursue their studies at public schools, are often severely harassed by high caste students. There was also a case, in the Dang Valley, of a high caste headmaster who refused to admit Badi girls to his school, saying that they would corrupt the other students.