Chandrika Ojha is the Vice-president of Biswas Prerana Rastriya Sanjal (BPRS), a national network of workers in the adult entertainment sector (AES) that covers hotels, restaurants, dance bars and dohori sanjh. BPRS was formed in 2021 with the objective of addressing the problems of AES workers. Nepal Live Today caught up with her to discuss issues related to the adult entertainment sector on the eve of International Women’s Day. Excerpts:
How were you introduced to Adult Entertainment Sector? What is your experience in the sector?
I came to Kathmandu from my home district, Doti about four years ago. When I first came to Kathmandu, I stayed with my uncle and aunt and tried my luck in the marketing business. One of the acquaintances of my uncle secured me a job at a dohori sanjh. That is how I came to this sector. I started as a singer at the dohori sanjh and that was easy for me as I used to sing at programs during festivals in my home district. But AES has many problems including in dohori sanjh.
What are those problems? Will you elaborate?
There are many problems in AES sector like workers not getting contract letters and ID cards. I often get to hear from workers in AES that the employer cuts their pay by wo days if they take leave for just one day. We are committed to making this sector dignified and exploitation-free.
How did you become a part of the network?
While I was working at the dohori sanjh, one of my friends informed me that there is an organization that provides help to workers in this sector. That is how I came in contact with Biswas Nepal, a non-government organization. It provided us with various leadership and capacity development training with support from Hamro Samman Project of Winrock International. I also took training on stress management and conflict management. As I came in contact with more workers from this sector, we decided to form a network of the workers in AES sector.
What do you want to achieve through the network?
We want full implementation of the Labour Act (2017) and a decent work environment in AES sector. As stated earlier, workers have many problems. They face several forms of harassment and exploitation at the workplace. We are committed to making this sector exploitation-free through the strength of solidarity gained through our network. The general public has a negative attitude towards AES. This, despite the fact that AES contributes to the society at large and the national economy. Most importantly, our goal is to create a positive image of AES.
Do you think you can realize your goal?
I already feel that a great change has occurred in my life in the span of just four years. I am now familiar with the rights of women. I can speak for my rights. I can approach people in authority without fear. This is all because I participated in various capacity and skill development activities with the support of Hamro Samman, Winrock International. We have committed and highly motivated individuals in our network. All these factors give me the confidence to work towards realizing our goal.
How do you compare the situation of women in Doti with Kathmandu?
Things have not changed much with women in far-western Nepal including Doti. In far-western Nepal, women are still subjected to various forms of violation. A wife rather dies out of trauma and pain inflicted by the beating of her husband than think of divorce. Chhaupadi practice is still widely practiced in far-western Nepal.
For me, working independently is still unthinkable in my natal district, Doti. In Kathmandu, women enjoy greater freedom. They can go to work. We have women and young girls working in the entertainment sector at night in Kathmandu. Here, we can choose the profession we want and can travel away from home for work. This is yet to happen in my home district.
What message do you have for young girls and women?
They say change starts from within and I think that is true. I have felt a huge transformation within me after I started reaching out to organizations and gained new skills. All I want to say to young girls and women is that if you want to do something it is never too late and you are not alone. Seek help and you will get the required support.