Today, The Typewriter chats with journalist and film director of “The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan” – Mr. Najibullah Quarishi.
Do you know anything about the history of bacha bazi?
It goes approximately 200-300 years back. This tradition has been practiced for over 300 years in Afghan rural areas where they gathered young boys and whilst playing basic musical instruments, asked boys to dance in front of wealthy people; it was exclusive entertainment only for them. They were the elders of the areas, especially during the night, where they had nothing better to do.
In Afghanistan, most of the people are farmers; around 90% of the population are farmers. While the summer was used to grow and collect harvest, the winter time was a lot more calmer and people had more free time on their hands. The evenings would be quiet and lonely, so they would call the boys to dance for them. Though, at the time, it was not used for sexual pleasure, but modern day Bacha Bazi has significantly changed.
The practise escalated until commanders during times of war became interested in this form of entertainment, however their motives differed slightly. They began using it primarily for sexual pleasure. This tradition was continued until the 90’s in all the provinces; Bacha Bazi expanded from rural areas to towns and in the centres. The commanders were using the boys to perform in front of men and their soldiers.
There was a sense of competition between them: one had one boy, and another had two boys. This encouraged them to look for even younger and more handsome boys. Up until 1994, the practise was extremely widespread and very common. Once the Taliban came in to power, Bacha Bazi was banned in the country, except for some Taliban who quietly had some boys, not for dancing, but just for sexuality. Most of them went to Pakistan and continued the tradition.
Some say it came from Turkey and somehow, the tradition came through to Afghanistan and started in the villages. No one knows exactly where it started.
What do you think are the contributing factors of bacha bazi?
The main problem is poverty and the lack of education, especially in the last 4 decades. Even in the time of the king, there was no education; we had only 5% of educated people at that time, now we have between 8-10%. There was hope once NATO came in to Afghanistan; everyone was very satisfied with their involvement in aid, etc. People thought that peace will be restored and poverty will be gone. However, everything went the opposite way. Nothing changed.
Every year in Afghanistan one or two NGOs or organisations open. They claim to be helping children in respective areas, however in reality we believe that are doing nothing. All we see are their writings on paper and reports back to their western backers, claiming to have done this and that.
There is no investment in that. If the countries who help Afghanistan, especially over the last 10 years, help the right people then this situation wouldn’t exist. We still have war; there is no peace and others are taking advantage of this situation. Consequently, because there is no peace everyone is taking their own benefit out of it.
The warlords still exist and corruption is number 1 in the world. Unfortunately there is no law when people need to accept the law; insurgents are here, the Taliban, and other ‘aiding’ countries are in Afghanistan. To be honest, even the government don’t have time to think about these ‘small’ things, because there are so many other big issues to solve. We need a full stop on these kinds of traditions in Afghanistan. We have to see peace in the country first, then the government can deal with these issues. At the moment, I don’t see a bright future for Afghanistan.
How do warlords treat the boys?
During my stay in Afghanistan, I observed the warlords for six months. I found that they treat them really well, sometimes better than themselves. If the paedophiles are very wealthy, they buy the boys houses and vehicles. When they are over the age of 18, they find them a female to marry and pay the wedding expenses. If they don’t have any money to treat the boy, they borrow money to spend it on the boys. When the boy is loyal to them, for example if they don’t cheat or run away, they will have a fancy life. If the boy tries to escape, their life would be torturous.
2 months ago I was in Afghanistan filming for German TV and I met a commander who was supported by the government and NATO. The commander invited us for tea. When I went to his base, it was very fancy.
Two really handsome beautiful boys were also there with the same style and the same clothes. The commander also had 2 dogs and 2 birds. I asked my friend, who was a local journalist in the area, if he knew anything about the boys and their identical sense of style. The journalist told me that they were the commanders bacha bazi boys and during the night, the two boys danced for the commander.
Although he is married with children, he doesn’t have an interest to go to his home. Every 2-3 months he goes home for 1 night and for the rest of the time, he is in his base enjoying the 2 boys and the 2 dogs. The commander had picked both of the boys up from different areas in Afghanistan and because of his vast network of people, he was able to find similar-looking boys through sending their pictures to his acquaintances. He is a commander, he has 2-300 soldiers and all the money he earns, he spends on those boys.
What does society think of bacha bazi?
The society hates them; they say those who practise it should be punished. They believe both, the boys and their masters, should be killed according to the Islamic law. Common people are unable to do anything; they don’t have guns, power or money. While warlords still control the country, corruption is at its peak. They take money in the name of children, women and schools, but instead they spend it on inhumane traditional practices
Do you think the justice system will ever be reformed?
In my personal opinion, I don’t think so. A year ago I was in the Ghazni province interviewing a local female MP. I noticed a painting of a handcuffed lady in a Burqa (female covering) on her wall. I asked the MP what the picture represented?
She told me the lady is 16 who just came from Iran with her family 2 months ago. As she was going to school, she was arrested by police on claim that she was planning to kidnap someone although there was no evidence to support it. The MP suspects that because the 16-year-old was very beautiful, they put her in jail for policemen and soldiers to rape her. On the night of her arrest, 11 policemen did. Although the court investigated her case, they didn’t find any evidence against her but yet still sentenced her to 3 years.
Currently, she is suffering in a female prison in Ghazni for simply being beautiful. This is the unfortunate state of the government and justice system. It is all corrupt.