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Bacha Bazi

Shukur, 21 in this picture, was kidnapped in Kabul when he was 12 years old and taken to Kunduz where he was kept as a Bacha Bereesh - a dancing boy - for a rich and powerful man. He was 17 when he escaped, and began making a living from his dancing. Photo by Barat Ali Bator via


Bachi bazi - I think it is also important that women are involved in the equation and that they make it more complicated. After all, the men with bacha are married with wives and are generally wealthy. A master having a boy is a power sign, so it’s an option for the boy to keep living. It’s also a way of asserting gendered power relations. It’s a way of showing masculine power.

Among warlords there are gays, but they marry because of social reasons then have dancing boys on the side. I know some have never had sex with their wives. I don’t mean to be prejudiced, but as far as I know, the center of bacha bazi is in Kandahar, with some in Northern Afghanistan too. It was a Pashtun practice initially. Gender issues really depend on the province. In Jalalabad, there are women singers and dancers from Pakistan that are hired to perform at weddings because they like dancing, but they don’t like Afghan women to dance as a sign of honor to them.

After the Taliban, there are some women that sing at parties. At some weddings, when everyone comes to say goodbye to the bride and groom, men can go to the woman’s side of the wedding and the men can dance. At old fashioned style wedding celebrations, women performers danced for women’s parties. Now, after the Taliban, weddings mostly rely on male singers and dancers with no performances for the women’s parties or the women make their own entertainment. There is no market for women, or if it’s there, it’s very small. My mother said, in the past, even if a family was poor, a singer and dancer were always hired for weddings. After the Taliban, this never resumed. It’s also not very likely to happen because men have more access to training, for example through music institutes that might not be exclusively for men, but only men can go to because families don’t want their daughters to learn music or dance. Also, men can go places and learn from their friends. For women it’s more difficult.

I don’t think it’s changing very much. Like “Afghan Star,” this show that I watch, I am always surprised that there are not more women performing. There have been one or two each season since it started, but the number hasn’t increased. Also, there’s no dancing program, even for men, where women could learn how to dance. I think it is a combination of families not wanting their daughters to participate. I think that’s maybe 70% of it. But I think daughters too don’t want to participate according to their beliefs. That’s the other 30%. Aryana Said on Afghan Star, she’s living in Canada. When she performed on Afghan Star, she wore a very tight dress with a singing and dancing performance. Right afterwards, it was all over Facebook that she was accused of being a prostitute. If you go on YouTube you can see a video she made defending why she had done it. Manija, a Tajik, used to come to Afghanistan to dance other dances, and that was okay.

Weddings in Herat are different from Kabul, and those are different from Southern weddings. Each tribe has its own kind of wedding tradition. Some weddings don’t have dancing in the tradition, especially in conservative weddings (south and southeast). This is common among Pashtuns. So there are some weddings where you just go and you talk and eat and then you leave. There are also some weddings – I’ve heard of them though I’ve never been – where men dance but women don’t.


Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Age: 24

Gender: Female

Ethnicity: Hazara

STORY ID: 00024

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