Menuka Thapa is the president of two-year old ‘Raksha Nepal’, a social service organization that focuses on the plight of girls working in massage parlors in the Valley. Raksha Nepal’s endeavors in this field can only be praised in the highest terms. As in many other cases, girls working in massage parlors come from outside the valley and it is economic hardships,illiteracy and the conflict that has driven them into a profession that Menuka says, “is worse than cabin restaurants and dance bars.” The meaning is clear; that girls here are much more exploited than in the other professions. “I myself have worked in a dohori geet restaurant for some time,” she says. Originating from a village near Panauti and blessed with a good voice, she came to the Capital nurturing ambitions to become a singer but, unfortunately, monetary and other factors put an end to her dreams, and it was but natural that she should join a dohori geet restaurant if for nothing else than to earn her daily bread. “However, it wasn’t what it is touted to be - a place to encourage traditional culture. In fact, it was just a hypocritical claim. I had to tolerate a lot of exploitative behavior while there and the sham of cultural promotion was just a cloak to disguise unsavory activities.”
Working under such conditions, Menuka has had many bad experiences and this ultimately led her to ‘Meet Nepal’. “They rehabilitated me,” she says, “I then went around doing research on demeaning professions like those spawned by dance bars, cabin restaurants and massage parlors. What I discovered was that dance restaurants were worse than dohori geet establishments, cabin restaurants were worse than dance restaurants and massage parlors were the worst of the lot.” According to her, in the former, at least some sort of monthly wages are assured, while in the case of massage parlors, the girls have to work on a commission basis. “And the percentages are totally in the owner’s favor.” It goes without saying that in all the professions mentioned above, girls are highly exploited. No wonder some massage parlors have become synonymous with brothels nowadays. One recalls a highly publicized raid on Thamel massage parlors some time ago. “Actually these parlors are totally at the mercy of corrupt policemen,” avers Menuka. “And they conduct raids on those parlors from where they have problems collecting their monthly dues.”
It is clear that Menuka Thapa does not have high regard for the integrity of local policemen. And of course, she is not alone in this. However, going by her own experiences, Menuka’s words carry a lot of meaning for society as a whole. Just like her mentor, Shashi Sharma of Meet Nepal, she is incensed by the statement of a former minister, Sharad Singh Bhandari, that red light areas should be permitted here. “Imagine such irresponsible words from men in power! Imagine what it will do to our social fabric! Our national character!” Menuka laments, and adds, “My research has shown that 90 % of the girls working in massage parlors want to escape from having to work there. All they are looking for is an opportunity. I would like to work towards giving them that chance.”
Raksha Nepal considers it their duty to show such girls ways to escape from their miserable professions. This it does through thorough research, counseling and skill trainings. “I believe in making good examples of a few, rather than invite failure by working with too many at a time,” Menuka maintains, no doubt based on her own rehabilitation success story, and is certain the few good examples will then become leaders themselves, who will work towards the same goals as herself. It is also worth mentioning that Menuka seems to have lost all confidence in the concerned government bodies and narrates a sad experience: “We had an agreement with an official body to conduct a project jointly, but the government has such ridiculous policies such as the requirement that the girls must have passed class eight and that they should have citizenship papers.” She is scornful at their lack of realism. “In the villages, if a girl has studied to class eight, she will be regarded as an educated person and looked upon with respect. Most of the girls working here in humiliating professions are not that fortunate. So what is the use of conducting high sounding projects when they don’t help people genuinely in need?”
Menuka has taken a loan from a bank to keep her organization running. She realizes the importance of doing so, for Raksha Nepal’s responsibilities are to numerous girls who would otherwise have nobody else to lean on. Menuka is pleased to inform that many girls have passed through her organization and there are now seventeen beauty parlors being run by women rehabilitated by Raksha Nepal. “We have succeeded in rehabilitating seventy girls, but this is just a small percentage of all those I want to help,” she says. “There must be 3000-3500 girls working in massage parlors in the city and believe me, most are severely exploited and have no protection whatsoever,” she adds.
Menuka Thapa is a beacon of hope to many hapless girls who have got a raw deal in life and her organization gives a second chance to those who are rescued from exploitation and mistreatment. Raksha Nepal’s motto says it all, ‘Hand Over A Secure Future, Not A Compulsive Profession.’
For Details: Raksha Nepal.
Lainchour (Kathmandu), GPO BOX: 24866
Office Phone: 977-01-4437552, 977-01-6912734
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com