Bhutan | After the Sunset

A traditional practice of courtship draws controversy in modern Bhutan

01 April 2013
A traditional two-storey home in central Bhutan. In the practice of bomena, today opposed by many Bhutanese, men climb into women’s homes to woo them.
GAYATRI PARAMESWARAN
A traditional two-storey home in central Bhutan. In the practice of bomena, today opposed by many Bhutanese, men climb into women’s homes to woo them.
GAYATRI PARAMESWARAN

ON FRIDAY NIGHTS, the cafés and restaurants in Norzin Lam—the main street of Bhutan’s capital Thimphu—teem with customers. On one such night in September last year, I met Karma Dorji (name changed on request) and his friend in one such café, to talk about their past lovers over drinks. It was a warm autumn evening, and though Dorji was reticent at first, as the chatter that surrounded us swelled, he let down his guard a little. Nursing his third whisky, he grew nostalgic as he recounted his first time with a woman.

“I was 17 or 18 then and it was so adventurous,” the 34-year-old from Trashigang district in eastern Bhutan said. “I waited for the sun to go down. After it was dark, I stepped out of my home secretly. I fancied a girl who stayed quite far from my home.” It took Dorji over an hour to reach the girl’s place, and it wasn’t an easy journey. “I had to walk through dense forests, and I was praying all the time because the forest is known to host evil spirits,” he said. “But I was dedicated to get to my woman.”

When Dorji reached the girl’s home, he was met with an unpleasant surprise. “I hopped the fence, and when I landed on the other side, a stack of pumpkins came crashing down on me,” he said. “For a moment I thought I was caught entering the house. I thought I was being beaten for breaking in.” Dorji laughed at this memory, and slammed his glass of whiskey on the table.

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    Gayatri Parameswaran  is a freelance journalist specialising in conflict, social justice and sexual health. She has reported from South Asia, the Middle East and the Caucasus.

    Keywords: Bhutan women’s rights bomena Domestic Violence Bill Gawa Chand RC RENEW night hunting courtship
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