Bhutan tightens regulations for entertainment clubs, to check vulgarity and to keep society 'decent'

Entertainment clubs, locally known as ‘drayangs’ in Bhutan, have received an ultimatum from the Bhutan government to either reform their operations or shut down their shops as authorities believe--though they have no clear evidence--these outlets are becoming  shady joints for illicit activities

Aug 09, 2021
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Bhutan tightens regulations for entertainment clubs

Entertainment clubs, locally known as ‘drayangs’ in Bhutan, have received an ultimatum from the Bhutan government to either reform their operations or shut down their shops as authorities believe--though they have no clear evidence--these outlets are becoming  shady joints for illicit activities. 

Commonly, drayangs are sort of entertainment places, operating mostly in evening hours, where artists, mostly girls, dance to the songs requested by customers. People are also served foods and beverages in these places. However, the larger Bhutanese society - mostly conservative -  has never been comfortable with these businesses in its neighborhood.

There is also a perception that it promotes prostitution and vulgarity in society. For some years now there has been debate in the country’s political circle whether or not  to formalize and regulate their operations. 

Recently, the government has set standard operating procedures (SOPs) and has banned the request system, a practice where a dancer approaches customers, seeking a request for songs in exchange for money from them. 

According to a report in Kuensel newspaper, the new guidelines mandate a separate team of waiters and waitresses to serve customers, meaning artists should not perform the dual functions of an artist and server. There will also be a dress code for different employees. 

Lotay Tshering, Bhutan’s prime minister, said that while there was no proof but they had indications that these places were operating like ‘red light areas’. “Research on drayangs have found out that the operation of drayags is not formal,” he was quoted as saying by Keunsel newspaper.  

Over the years, the usage of Hindi filmsongs from India, many of which are considered vulgar by Bhutanese society, has increased in the clubs. Also, local Bhutanese songs, which once used to dominate their playlist, have lost traction in these clubs. The culture of dressing artists in relatively revealing clothes--which had not been the case earlier--is also on rising. 

Bhutan, a Buddhist kingdom, has always been overly protective when it comes to its culture and lifestyles. Any trend, that the kingdom remotely feels is diluting its national identity and culture, gets redflagged.

The new guidelines make it mandatory for artists to wear proper national dress and perform only Bhutanese songs and dances. PM  Tshering said the government’s motive is to create a “decent society.” 

But for many owners, the reform timing couldn’t be worse. They have endured big losses ever since the pandemic started last year and the removal of the request system, they said, will reduce their income substantially. 

However, the government is serious about implementing these social reforms and the monitoring of the operations of these clubs has now come directly under the Office of the Prime Minister. Tshering said those who could not implement these reforms should surrender their licenses. 

Also, the government has proposed to provide incentives and help to those owners who want to switch their businesses to restaurants and bars, offering them repayment of their loans and rents. 

(SAM)