Art for Art Sake, Not for Harassment Sake
Launda Naach is a folk art form from Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. The art form dates back to the 11th century. Back then, women were not allowed to perform in public ceremonies. This cloistered existence of women made men take up the roles of traditional entertainers.
The process of booking Launda dancers is not very complicated, really. Bandmasters help dancing companies book Launda dancers through them. These dancers receive no formal training, and it might surprise some that there were schools that would hone these dancers. The bandmasters play catchy Bollywood numbers, beats falling in sync with the movements of the dancers. The steps are impromptu. It is now a base entertainment to a bunch of men who perceive Launda dancers as a piece of meat, or an object of ridicule. Because Launda Naach openly allows for objectification and validates it, it has become an area for abuse. Laundas perform especially at the gathering of men, they are physically abused in the name of “wedding spirit”. They’re touched and groped without consent, quite similar to what happens to the dancing boys of Afghanistan… Most of these Launda Naach videos are sleazy, openly record abuse, and are generally linked to pornographic sites, meant to satisfy a male audience.
In India adolescents and young gender variant boys, males with a feminine demeanor that is effeminate males/ males with feminine gender construction are victims of social stigma and gross human rights violations, and as a result, face serious barriers to joining mainstream occupations. This has led to a situation where in the absence of any other alternative, many join the “hijra” (eunuch) community and undergo illegal, secret, and crude castration operations at great risk to their lives.
Their livelihood option as Hijra or as folk entertainers put them at grave risk of physical assaults and violence, sometimes leading to death, sexual harassment, sexual abuse and rape, other hate crimes, and increasingly now, risk of HIV infection.
Sexual exploitation of children and young people has long been seen as an issue in South Asia, but it is often viewed as being limited to girls. Consequently, the prostitution of boys is little understood, despite its acknowledged existence in some parts of South Asia including India.
The prostitution of males is unrecognized and a taboo subject in Indian societies, and thus, cases involving the sexual exploitation of boys are frequently underreported and shrouded in silence. Very few programs address the prostitution of males in India because males are perceived as emotionally or physically harmed by prostitution more than girls, and therefore, are seen as not needing special attention and services. Most interventions in India related to the sexual exploitation of males are focused on HIV/AIDS awareness work.
The Laundas of Bihar and UP define and spice up the entertainment barometer for marriages in the Hindi heartland. But deep within they nurse broken hearts and bruised bodies. They are the young torchbearers of an age–old popular tradition – upholders of the Launda Naach, an integral part of the weddings in northern India, especially Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where weddings are elaborate affairs with a fair rustic dose of merrymaking, drinking, music, and dance. Here young effeminate boys dance in marriage processions and ceremonies, dressed in women’s clothing.
Laundas (young boys) used to be hired by poor families that could not afford more expensive women dancers. Gradually Launda Naach became very popular and an intrinsic part of marriage ceremonies, especially in feudal areas of Bihar and UP. The dancers mainly belong to the lower middle class and poor families mainly from West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Maharastra, and also from Nepal and Bangladesh. They come to Bihar and UP during the peak marriage season between April and June in summer and December to February in winter.
The groom’s family usually hires the dancers. They have to dance all the way to the girl’s family along with the baraat (groom’s entourage). In rural areas, this journey could stretch across several miles and span numerous villages. After going to the bride’s house, they get to rest briefly during dinner, after which begins the climax item through the LAGGAN (marriage) ceremony.
It could start late in the evening and continue non-stop until dawn. Even if they feel tired they cannot stop as they are physically prodded to carry on, with pinpricks on their body. At times drinking water has been refused. As the night progress, the songs become risqué, complemented by vulgar and obscene body movements. By this time drunken men at the wedding party hurl abuse at the dancers. The dancers now become vulnerable to physical and sexual assaults. Often their back was slashed with blades when they were dancing wearing backless cholis. Often they were bitten and sank or stubbed.
A group of 10 to 15 men could physically carry a dancer to a field and gang rapes him, and this is a very common trend. They have faced torture on all occasions. Resistance only leads to greater torture and sometimes even death.
Most of them are semi-literate and come from poor backgrounds, some are educated and prefer to dance rather than become the butt of ridicule at the workplace. Most are from low-income groups where poverty and support for their families drive much of their sex work. In other words, their several frameworks of male sex work. But the common part of all is violence.
Men are attracted to Luanda dancing mainly by the money and the freedom to express their womanly instincts away from the jibes of relatives and neighbors. In spite of the risk involved very few actually want to quit the seasonal profession because of the lack of alternatives.
Luanda dancers are often treated as objects of lust. Living condition is generally filthy and deplorable. They are being put up in the outhouses, which are thatched shacks, often shared with goats and cows. The food offered is equally poor. Sanitation is non-existent. Even that is also risky for getting assaulted in the field.
After the season these boys are divided into groups. New boys or not so experienced boys back home but others may stay back or travel to other parts of the country with peers for joining local seasonal celebrations.
Often live-in Laundas end up becoming unpaid slaves, doing menial household chores, including looking after their man’s children. Thus he not only becomes his owner’s sex slave but also has to entertain his friends. However, after some years of providing constant physical gratification and sexual service when they lose or fall prey to some sexually transmitted disease, they are cast away.
Traditionalists may proudly declare how the dance parties of Bihar and UP are keeping alive an age-old tradition through the Launda Naach ceremonies, but hard facts call for urgent intervention and rehabilitation of these talented young impressionable boys who risk daily humiliation and even death while providing casual moments of cheap entertainment.
About the author
Assistant Professor & Tribal Researcher
Department of English, P.K.R.Arts College for Women Erode Dt, Tamil Nadu,
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