Kelzang Phuntsho, the President of Drayang Association of Bhutan (Photo: Kelzang Phuntsho Facebook)

Drayang President worries about desperate and unemployed ex-drayang employees joining the sex industry

When the government banned the drayang industry, a promise was made to ensure the livelihood of ex drayang employees. The government pledge was to have the laid off drayang employees apply for courses to skill them so they can earn a livelihood. However, the catch is that most courses offered under SDP require a minimum qualification of class X and at least one educational background,

So far, the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources has not enrolled candidates for SDP without qualification except for Farm Machinery Technology. The ministry also stated it is in the process of identifying courses which does not require academic qualifications, like the village skilling program.

Since most ex drayang employees do not meet the requirements for SDP, they are in a bind as to what course of action to take before their Kidu initiative ends in July.

“Most of our drayang girls do not even have class X background. I don’t see many options for them. While a few of them have returned to the villages, the majority of them, let’s say 60-70 percentages, are stuck in urban areas like Phuentsholing, Thimphu, Paro and Wangduephodrang, and they are not doing well (stated during their conversations in their WeChat Group). Some of them are working, starting from being parking fee collectors in Phuentsholing,” said Kelzang Phuntsho, the President of Drayang Association of Bhutan.

The President continued, “While it may be true that a minority of them has gotten some jobs, and some others has even completed the skills training offered by the ministry (the 31 batch of employees who have completed the entrepreneurship training as well as those training in ECCD and tailoring in Bumthang and Trashiyangtse), I am hoping the government will at least provide them with loans to open up businesses without having any collateral as most of our drayang employees do not have them.”

He said as a drayang president, he was under the impression they will at least send an official statement or formal letter announcing the job slots for various category, like for those who studied in class 10-12, class 8-10, 6-8 and illiterate, so that he can tell them the good news.

“As per the executive order, we were supposed to contact the labour sector, and there was only one person attending to them. But since there were about thousand plus calls, he might have been overwhelmed and was not able to respond to all the calls who have registered for the program.”

The drayang employees are eligible to get Nu 5,000 payment and some amount from their employer for the duration of two years if they undergo short time training (like chef and bartending) and most training seem to revolve around self-employment, according to the President.

“I understand the Government’s concern about girls getting exploited when working in the drayang, but that has never happened under my watch. People’s and government’s notion about the drayang was totally wrong, and there were no transactional sexual businesses happening in secrecy in various drayangs as the drayang employees had stable source of income and did not have the need to operate separate sex business. But now, it is very probable that they might go down that road as they are deprived of their livelihoods and the circumstances force them to do whatever necessary to survive. Currently, there is the Kidu to protect them, but that is ending in July and there is no saying what will happen to them after it ends,” the Drayang President added.

According to the Drayang President, he and the drayang employees had six to seven meeting with the Prime Minister at the Lyonchhen’s office for discussions. During the discussions, the employees who have returned from Middle East were enquired about how much they were able to save a month in Bhutan, to which they replied, Nu 15-20 thousand a month.

The Drayang President said Lyonchhen then asked the drayang employees if they were willing to quit the drayang work if they are paid about Nu 17-19 thousand a month.

 “Of course the drayang employees were happy to hear that and all of them readily agreed. The Lyonchhen told us not to worry and that the employment was 100 percent guaranteed for all of the drayang employees for Nu 17-19 thousand a month. I even told them the good news from the Lyonchhen. But now, that does not seem to be the case since most are currently laid off, and those that are working only seems to be earning Nu 6-10 thousand a month,” said the Drayang President.

Regarding the interest of most drayang girls, the majority wished to work in entertainment centers as they were well versed and familiar in entertainment like dancing. They wished to work as dancers in bar, in RAPA, waiters in bar, mostly on stage, in restaurants, etc. Those that wanted to open up a business, wished to open up a bar and obtain a bar license. Also, according to the Drayang President, there is not a single drayang employee who is fully settled right now and doing well while a few of them were happy with the government’s decision to give them skills training.

Changa Dawa, who used to work as DJ in a drayang, now works as a taxi driver. “In drayang, the academic qualifications did not matter and was not the measure of success of a drayang employee. What dictated the hierarchy was their skills and reputation as well as the ability to entertain/charm the audience. It used to be a lively place and we used to be a lively bunch,” he said.

Ngawang Tobgay, who is a lawyer by profession, said that the drayang employees and the president have the option to sue the government.

“First of all, the government’s decision to close the drayangs was taken without doing any groundwork or homework, and it was done in haste. The government should have looked into what job opportunities and livelihood they could offer to the drayang employees before permanently hammering the industry into the dust and taking away their livelihoods. They should have researched what kind of qualifications the employees had and accordingly come up with slots for various backgrounds, their age group, interests, etc., so that as soon as the industry closed down the ex-employees could join the workforce without a hitch,” said Ngawang.

He said the government promised the livelihood and now the complication arises when they cannot fulfill that pledge.

“By hook or crook, they have to fulfill that promise now. Otherwise, it falls under breach of contract clause and it also falls under deception.  They are not even private persons; they are the government, representatives of the voice of people, so they must stick with their points. If not, the drayang employees and the president have the right to sue the government,” said the lawyer.

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