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Monday, January 19, 2009

Save the Thamel

Picturing the perfect scenario of tourism, Thamel potrays the real image of a tourist hub where more than 2500 business runs acclimatizing the sole theme of serving the tourists. No matter what, tourism being a service industry has been catering the needs of tourists and visitors adapting it in the most profound way. Like such, Thamel as a hub, provides availability of things ranging from food items to entertainment for tourists. There is no doubt that Thamel is the most happening destination in the whole of Kathmandu but, with time, Thamel has seen many changes and not all of them are good ones. Lately, Thamel has become a notorious destination among domestic and international tourists as sex business center.

The different orchestrated centers like dance bar restaurants, cabin restaurants, massage centers and discos are mushrooming in Thamel which is posing a great threat to the overall image of the country. As most of the tourists visiting Nepal still prefer to stay in Thamel for the name it has earned over the years as a popular hang out place for tourists. However, the sex business in Thamel has intensified so much that after dusk, the scenario changes where it stages itself with an illusive image of explicit paradise. One can easily understand the worsening scenario by looking around the growing numbers of sex workers and brokers wandering freely in the street of Thamel.

Namgyal Lama, President of Thamel Tourism Development Council (TTDC) said, "The first thing that we should understand is that Thamel is changing very fast in to becoming an entertainment hub. Previously, it was just thought as a tourist hub but today it has commercialized where different businesses are run. We totally agree that if Thamel is not properly managed and monitored, it would certainly turn out worse in the years ahead."

Lama informs more, "A new problem of walking prostitutes has arisen in Thamel. Many of the tourists have complained of such encounters in streets of Thamel. It needs to be controlled by the authorities before it gets too late."

“Although prostitution is illegal in Nepal, it is going on unabatedly. In addition, the basic thing here is about clear policies where the government lacks to provide an effective mechanism," added he.

Tourism provides massive potential for sustainable social and economic growth and development of the countries. And many tourism experts argue that there is a huge potential in the sex industry to allure tourists in any country. Unfortunately, it also invites inherent threats like HIV AIDS and other STD’s.

In February 4, 2005 (Friday), the BBC News website quoted, “The sexual behavior of Nepalese trekking guides and tourists is to be the subject of a study by researchers at Aberdeen University.” Perhaps, the situation has worsened in the years.

According to a broker in Thamel, “The question here is not about availability, the question here is about people's mentality. The government should take strict measures and control it. One must see the problem from different angles to analyze the situation."

He stressed, “We do this for living and we do not have much choice left. Besides, it is an easy way to earn. And it is same with the sex workers. Most of them are compelled to sell sex. From time to time the Indian tourists do visit these brothels and more often their guests have been Nepalese.”

"I have heard the whole racket run in association with in the cooperation of Police. Every month, a large sum of money is channeled to police officers for facilitating their work. The whole network runs with the help of money power which sluggish to higher level officials," he added.

There have also been reports that even police officials are involved in these businesses indirectly. Many of them make hefty money out of these businesses for not conducting raids.

On the same, defending the issue, Basundhara Khakda, Inspector at the Sorhakhutta Police Station said, “When I first came to this station. Like a normal person, I had a different image of Thamel as a tourist destination,” adding, “Sex business is however not the only problem in Thamel. Recently, two dance restaurant owners for over billing where from time to time we have been monitoring such activities since," informed she.

“We have launched a Quick React Team (QRT) for effectively handling the situation where our team is leading the action for prominent results. We have been holding operation in Thamel in both duty hours and off-duty hours to find out more irregularities. Apart from that recently, we had called all the dance restaurant owners and had discussed the issues of inappropriate sexual activities happening in such centers. They did agree to stay according to rule. If they cross it, then we would certainly take action against them,” added she.

Regarding the allegation for police, she asserted, “I am not bothered by what people say. It is part of my duty to work for the people with in the legal periphery and I would always be marching in that direction to achieve my goals where the wrong doers would certainly be brought to the book.”

There is no doubt that the high number of displaced because of the past conflict has led most of the young girls to choose sex work for living. Owing to lack of opportunities, these girls start their sex career right from as early as 13. To begin with, most of them start from cabin and dance restaurants. And slowly they take to prostitutions by force or any other reasons. From interviews, most of them don’t fancy their job as sex workers but are compelled to do so to meet their expensive daily needs in Kathmandu.

Prof. Dr Rudra Pd. Updhayay, Central Dept of Economic and rural Development T.U Kirtipur said, “Sex tourism is a part of tourism which cannot be denied. Perhaps, sex industry is such controversial issue that can be regulated but it cannot be controlled which need to be understood and worked on. Especially in Nepal, where sex is taken as taboo, the problem is inevitable looking at the growing tourism scenario. The increase in sexual activities in Thamel and other hubs are the direct effect of inflation, violence and displaced situation.”

“Thamel is a booming hub and all the business inside it are interrelated which need to be understood. Another reasons for the increasing sex industry inside the tourism is the lack of proper rules and regulation which generally fortifies the sex tourist to travel to such country where the rules and regulation are at ease or flexible. Like wise, It is also attracting sex tourists who are not only bringing a limited resource but unfortunately they are also bringing diseases like HIV/AIDS which needs to be addressed by heightening awareness,” added he.

He suggested, "TTDC should initiate a proper mechanism with the stakeholders to regulate sex businesses in Thamel."

Approximately, there are more than 30 Dance Restaurants and 200 Massage Centers in Thamel alone. However, not all the dance bars and massage parlors are using sex as their prime product. Regardless of high risk of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and HIV-Aids, the sex industry in Thamel is growing in an alarming rate. Now the time has come that the government should take some serious steps regarding prostitution and other sex related activities in the country in general and Thamel in particular. Those illegal brothels need to be identified and closed down. The time has also come for public polls on whether to legalize prostitution or not. The situation as of now is only risking the health of public and the sex workers and if this issue is ignored that may have deadly impact on the society as a whole researcher's have contemplated that potential tourists' fear of HIV/AIDS could discourage themselves from visiting such places and which might displace the tourism businesses from Thamel to other place as what happened to the Freak Street. Therefore, effective measures should be taken in a coordinated way to make a Thamel a better place. The TTDC should play a role to take further initiatives in bringing concrete solutions to this problem before it gets too late.

By Shreedeep Rayamajhi

Publication: Nepal Traveller Publication
Magzine: Nepal Travel Trade Reporter
Date of issue: March 10-23, 2008
Issue: 48
Page no: 22 and 23 (Feature Article)


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