June 2001 | Archive | View images
reportage Behind the curtains of Kathmandu
On Friday night, Kathmandu's dance and cabin restaurants are in full swing. Everyone's been paid and hundreds of places are full of groups of men looking to kick back, relax, get drunk and take a girl out for the night.

In Downtown Dance Restaurant, the atmosphere is loud and charged. On a small stage, Shanty gyrates to Hindi pop music in a tame version of a western pole dance. Drunken men throw money on the stage, chanting "sexy Shanti".

Moonlight Cabin Restaurant has small, candlelit booths with tables. Suman is obliged to sit with customers. A drunken young Nepali man stumbles around telling other customers, "She's my lover." Later in tears Suman says, "sex is not love" and admits she does it to support her three year old daughter, Priyanka, in Darjeeling. Though a single parent and unable to get a good job herself she is determined Priyanka will get a good education.

"A girl in Nepal is pretty worthless", says Peter Bashford of Maiti Nepal, an organization that deals with prostitution between rural Nepal and India. The dowry system, though officially outlawed, adds to the cost of bringing up a girl who, once married, will no longer contribute to the income of her parental family.
Employment agents come to villages, offering girls like Shanti jobs in Kathmandu as waitresses. Though families are warned of the possibilities of prostitution they often choose to turn a blind eye. "One month's money for a waitress can be a whole year's income for a rural farmer", states Bashford.
The restaurants live up to the families' worst fears all too often. Even in more innocent looking establishments girls are groped and propositioned for dates. Customers at dance and cabin restaurants often want more attention from the waitresses than just table service. Though many girls find it hard to deal with at first, they quickly become resigned to the advances and wandering hands. Many eventually accept their fate and fall into prostitution. The money can be very good by Nepali standards. A girl will earn £ 80 per month as a dancer, tips can double this and sex for a night brings rewards of between £30 and £100 per night depending on the desirability of the girl. Due to the cost it is common for groups of men to take a single girl for the night.

Regulating dance and cabin restaurants is a problem. Though all businesses register with the Department of Cottage Industries, these places do not have to distinguish themselves from other eating establishments. No system is in place to properly monitor the activities that go on inside.
Two years ago the law was changed to remove curtains from the booths in cabin restaurants. These days if a restaurant has a good relationship with the police, the curtain remains. But occasionally the police do raid some of the restaurants. When a customer is arrested they will be fined and released after a day or two. Girls often face a worse fate: tabloid papers have close links to the police and place blame by publishing the girls’ pictures and names.
Customers, may be arrested and fined but honour is key in Nepal. It is the waitresses who are alienated and trapped, unable to re-enter mainstream Nepali culture.
Josh Hobbins

The British photographer Josh Hobbins, 29, lived and travelled extensively in Asia as a child. After losing his previous job he solld all his belongings and bought a camera and a one way ticket to Bangkok. Soon he realised that his camera was a passport to see the world from a different angle.
He returned to London to obtain a diploma in photojournalism in 2000 at the London College of Printing's postgraduate photojournalism course. Currently he's working as a free lance photographer, covering both social documentary topics in Asia and Africa and unusual sports and jazz.

The photographer can be contacted at joshhobbins@hotmail.com
June 2001 | Archive | View images