Once upon a time, the government thought a tough Tobacco Law banning import of tobacco will discourage smoking, but what we got was a lot of people getting locked up, legislative backtracking, an elaborate smuggling network that helped bring in COVID-19 and the smokers still continued to smoke.
We appear not to have learnt our lessons, and the government has now got it into its head that by getting tough on Drayangs or discouraging them, it can lessen the exploitation of women and bring about a morally more upright society.
Bhutan’s moralistic middle class will have its extra marital affairs, its children doing drugs, its youth and even the old enjoying promiscuous relationships, its gambling sessions, its porn, its alcohol and its many double standards, but then will not hesitate to point its judgmental fingers at Drayangs as the root of all societal evil.
One of the basic rules of governance is to take decisions based on data and ground realities and not on popular perception or social and class biases or prejudice.
The popular educated middle class perception of Drayangs are that of immoral places where women sell themselves to the highest bidders. However, just because a view is popular does not mean it is true.
Credible studies, surveys and research papers done in the field show that only a small proportion of Drayang worker engage in transactional sex and the HIV and STI rate among them is minimal and comparable to the normal population.
A recent paper that surveyed several Drayang workers found that most of them are happy to work in Drayangs and feel they have a good work environment.
For most of them, given their low educational qualifications, this is the only viable source of income for them to support themselves and their family.
However, the government has decided once again to engage in evidence free decision making to cater to populist but incorrect assumptions.
One of the biggest challenges that Drayang workers face in their own words is social stigma, but the government’s current moralistic approach is making it painfully worse for them.
Drayangs are the final safety net for a lot of poorly educated and vulnerable women, and if the government clumsily removes that net then what they will fall into next will be something far worse and unsafe.
Drayang workers will welcome government intervention to improve their lot, but not one that holds up its nose to pass moral judgments on them that will finish off the industry that employs close to a thousand people.
COVID-19 will continue to have a devastating impact on the Bhutanese economy for years to come, and the last thing the government should be doing is to make it worse for any sector based on a sense of moral superiority and wrong assumptions. It is time to get off the high horses and have a heart.