Rashme SehgalRashme Sehgal



Lhasa :The Dalai Lama’s Potala palace may continue to dominate Lhasa’s skyline but  the city’s  reputation of being the  centre of  religious activity has taken a beating. During the last decade, Tibet’s premier town  has acquired the dubious distinction of having emerged as  the sleaze capital of China with a booming sex industry catering to the needs of thousands of  military personnel stationed there.
There are some streets in Lhasa which are known to have more than thirty to forty hairdressing saloons and massage parlours. Each of these is manned by attractive young Tibetan girls who are known to provide more than just a haircut.
Lhasa’s beautiful old city called Barkhor is the nerve centre of this activity. An elderly Tibetan woman who runs a  restaurant  perched between two massage parlours and who  has visited Dharamsala  told this reporter in broken Hindi, `Our culture has been completely destroyed . The kind of promiscuity being openely indulged upon by our young girls is seen to be believed.’
The sex trade in China, locals pointed out, is in the hands of Chinese gangs who receive political protection. Even on Pilgrim’s Street where this reporter was staying,  and which had maroon-robed monks sit on the roadside every afternoon chanting hymns and begging for money,  there were any number of karoke bars where girls played interchangeable roles of both hostess and prostitute.
Lhasa’s red light district however is Lingkhor. It has a string of beautiful shrines and temples  with pilgrims doing the rounds during the day. But alongside these temples are hundreds of brothels where Chinese hookers from Sichuan and Qinhai sit cheek-by-jowl with their Tibetan counterparts who have often migrated from the agricultural areas of Kham .
Indian film stars seem to be extremely popular in both  Barkhor and in Lingkhor because posters of Salman Khan, Madhuri Dixit and  Karishma Kapoor and Priety Zinta are pasted on  the windows and inside their rooms.
The clients are known to be largely truck drivers and army men.  The truck drivers are often driving in from Lanzhou of Chamdo town on their way to western Tibet.
The Delhi-based writer  activist Tenzin Tsundue  who visited Lhasa in 1997 that the young Tibetan is trapped between two dichotomous world views. `There is the traditional Tibetan world view where people are expected to lead a life of compassion and simplicity. The Chinese are promoting a market-driven economy where only money talks.’
The problem for the Tibetans is that they remain a marginalised lot with few employment avenues. Tsundue says, `This has driven them to gambling, prostitution, drug peddling and of course gang fights. Cultural resistance remain our only hope.’

Young  Chinese men are known to drive around  in swanky cars picking up Tibetan girls from outside super markets This reporter chanced to witness two such encounters  where swanky SUVs  driven by young Chinese men stopped outside a super market  as early as  9pm in the evening. The men stepped out of their cars and were soon joined by young women.A heated conversation took place between the two sides after which the girls agreed to step into their cars, obviously to be driven away to a onvenient destination.
Many of these young Tibetan women have been driven into prostitution out of sheer poverty. They first work in  Lhasa as domestic servants after and then gradually find themselves being sucked into prostitution.
With the Chinese having effectively marginalised the Tibetan population from the key political and cultural activities, large numbers of women have no choice but to survive from this activity.

More reading on Tibet:  http://www.tibet.net/