By David Odongo
Nairobi, Kenya: The Nairobian has unearthed a scheme where poor teenage girls are trafficked from villages in India and Nepal to Nairobi on a tourist visa, but are then being subjected to sexual slavery by rich Asian businessmen.
The girls are recruited to come to Kenya to be part of sensual Mujra dancers that many male Asians love to watch in the evenings. But apart from sexually charged dancing, the girls, who many can’t speak English, also provide extras.
So popular has been the Mujra culture in Kenya that so far, more than five places in Nairobi offer the dances. The dances take place every day and the joints are usually filled to the rafters. In all the joints, the minimum number of women, who can perform, is six but usually, 15 women is the ideal number to dance all through the night. In some places, they have special rooms where the woman can give a reveller a dance, as she strips naked. The women also offer extras is the client is willing to pay for it. So secretive is the underhand dance deals that only loyal and trusted customers pay and get the extra services of the dancer.
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In some joints, exclusively set up for Mujra, customers sit on couches in poorly lit rooms and watch the ladies dance. The bright light is focused on the ladies, and not on the clients.
If a man sees a lady he likes, he will give a tip to a handler, who will then place a flower necklace on the lady’s neck. The men are not permitted to touch the girls By the end of the evening, the lady who has the highest number of flowers round her neck is the favorite amongst men. Men will then launch a bid for the lady, and the man with the highest bid will take the girl for a private dance as well as extras.
After the men with money have battled it out and one of them takes the girl, the rest of the men will pick a girl of their choice and negotiate the rates with the pimp.
The Nairobian can exclusively reveal that most of these woman are shipped from India on a tourist visa, and the mujra business is a cover for a thriving trafficking business.
In May 15, 2005, the Indian government banned bars offering Mujra dancing and more than 800,000 erotic dancers were rendered jobless. Social intolerance for institutions that exploit female sexuality led to the ban since the dances were fronts for human trafficking and prostitution.
“It is a perfect opportunity for astute businessmen. Many Indian men don’t like visiting local prostitutes, and the high end Indian prostitutes are very expensive, so it is easier to get the women into the country, pimp them out to Asian men who are willing to pay” reveals our source.
The girls enter Kenya on tourist visas to visit their relatives, but end up working in the secret brothels as dancers and prostitutes. The businessmen organise everything for the girls, including accommodation, and to recoup the cost spent on the them, the pimps decide who the girls sleep with and how much they are paid.
The best joints are known through word of mouth. According to our source, most of the Kenyan businessmen have scouts in India who pick girls from poor families and promises them a better life in Kenya. The scout then sends pictures of the girls. Sometimes the businessmen go to India and pick out the girls they like.
In some clubs in Westlands and Parklands area, the girls aren’t forced into prostitution but have an agreement with the club owners. Since the girls can dance, the club owner will procure men for them, and they share the money. On a Friday evening, at an establishment in Westlands, the Mujra dancers sensuously gyrate to the music, dressed in flashy tradition Indian womens wear as others, waiting for the turns to dance, pose and smile flirtatiously.
Clients can request songs to which the women will dance to. Each woman dances for less than ten minutes and they take turns to dance all through the night. Many revellers shower the dancers with money. The atmosphere reeks of sexual anticipation.
Most clients are oblivious to the fact that after the dance, loyal clients who can pay for extra services get preferential treatment in rooms behind the joints. The girls will dance while stripping, and eventually have sex with the client. The payment is made to the owner of the club who in turn pays the girls. Some of the girls don’t speak English and are locked up during the day. The Nairobian has also learnt that their passports are held by their ‘ownrs’. In the normal setting, after three months, the girls, with accrued savings from clients, goes back to Indian and a new batch of eager young girls are brought in.
However, a regular Mujra devotee says the dances are purely for show, and the women never remove their clothes. He insists that it is purely an Indian traditional dance and there is no sex involved whatsoever.
“You are not even allowed to touch them, if you touch them security will throw you out” The Mujras in India in the old days were prostitutes, but the ones who come to Nairobi are just dancers. If there is more that goes on, then I am not aware because it must be very secretive,” he says. He reveals that most of the Mujra dens are kept in business by Asian men who are ‘addicted’ to the dances. However, others say the ‘tradition’ has over the years been abused.
“Kikuyus love going to Mike Rua concerts, Luos will go to Osogo Winyo, so Indians also love their music and traditions, and for us who grew up in Kenya, local Indian women don’t do such dances. That’s why they are imported from India,” adds our source. He, however, acknowledges that most of the girls don’t have work permits and there are question marks about how they are brought to Kenya.
“There is no standard mijra joint. Its here today, gone tomorrow. It is because of problems with the police and immigration.The lack of consistency is the main reason why I no longer go for Mujra” says another source, who did not want to be named.
The dances, known as Mujra emerged three hundred years back. Mujra was an art, perfected through constant practice and during Mughal rule in India, in places such as Jaipur, the tradition of performing Mujra was a family art and often passed down from mother to daughter amongst Muslim practitioners. Mujra was traditionally performed at palaces and in special houses called kothas. The profession was a cross between art and exotic dance, with the performers often serving as courtesans amongst Mughal royalty or wealthy patrons.