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Bhutan: Khuru And The Rise Of Feminist Movements

Khuru, Bhutanese dart game. Image By Flickr user Michael Foley Photography. CC BY-NC-ND

Bhutanese women may have, unintentionally, created the stirrings of their first feminist movement of sorts when they recently started to encroach upon a traditionally male dominated sport Khuru (game of darts).

In a matriarchal society like Bhutan's women have, generally speaking, had it pretty good. They live the way they want, dress as they please, and do the things they want, meeting little resistance from society. They have equal opportunity in education and employment, and work side by side with men in the fields, as well as in offices. After all there has always been a cultural perception that girls/daughters are the better caretakers of aging parents and families, hence a preference for girls over boys right from birth. That may be why traditional inheritance laws too were in favor of women.

But the question of how much freedom and the limitations to what women can and cannot do; what is appropriate and inappropriate, because of Khuru is now being debated widely over the internet as well as in living rooms.

What is interesting is that this need to test boundaries was not a deliberate movement by educated women. Instead it started off with village/semi-literate women who were simply interested in playing the sport, but with media attention soon became something more.

Women in Bhutan practice Olympic style archery, play basketball, soccer, cricket, billiards (while hanging out at bars) and other games. But traditional sports has, until now, remained restricted to men. When women encroached on it recently, it seemed to unleash the chauvinism not unfamiliar to women all over the world.

On the Kuzu-Bhutan weblog “Simpleton” started the thread titled “Of women and the game of Khuru”

Khuru is unbecoming for ladies. Their dress, referring to kira, is restrictive of free movements…..Tradition has to be respected, not on the basis of the notion that men have fears of losing this out to women but its sanctity must be preserved…

Bhutanese women in colorful Kira line up for tsechu festival. Image by Flickr user Andreakw. CC BY-NC-ND

“wow” responded :

I am a man, but I have no problem with women playing khuru. It is up to them. If they like to play it, let them play. Who would have thought 15 yrs ago that we would have women taxi drivers now? The same with khuru….soon we would have women playing archery too at the archery range in Changlingmi thang archery range… Everything changes, the old gives way to the new…

To which “Pangtsi Dorma” said:

its really disgusting to see women play khuru. i immediately turn off the tv if the game is telecasted.

and “Twitter” added:

In many ways I am a staunch supporter of women's empowerment and rights. But this khuru thing totally turns me off — I don't know why, but I can't stand it. They look like women in WWF!

On another forum some like “kjel” called it a bad omen for women to be playing Khuru.

[playing Khuru] is a very bad omen. That is why we have so many earthquakes, storms, landslides, fire, heavy rain, alcholism, druggism and rappisium.

And on Bhutantimes.com “ravin” said referring to the dance by players after a hit:

It is quite embarrassing to see women in Kira playing Khuru and dancing Dacham like men.

And WangDugaY thinking he was being funny, rather than insulting said:

Hope our female monkeys will hold their skirts down properly in future while dancing WaHa WaHa, raising one of their legs high up in the sky.

on the Kuenselonline forum aZaRia countered this view:

Women playing khuru is just an excuse for the men to go on a tirade, belittling and accusing them of destroying the tradition and culture of our country….One of the pillars of GNH is the preservation and promotion of culture. However, I do not recall it being…at the exclusion of WOMEN! Women are equal citizens of this country (but I believe it is not so in practice as it is quite obvious on this forum that men think themselves superior to women)…Bhutan is a Buddhist country but at the rate the men on this forum are going on, you are mutating the form of Buddhist philosophy…. Please do not become a bigoted and sexist lot!…We live in the 21st century… Why let superstitions rule our lives? You men are using superstition to continue subjugating women.

But Kinden cautioned blaming men only:

hi aZaRIA,… If you interview, 90 percent of women will be against women playing khuru. I bet.

And he could nearly be right given that women like “Kuenza” had this to say on her blog:

While I am a woman who wants to see women come up, I think sometime, there are also things that we must understand are under men's domain…We do not have to prove our might or capability by attempting to do everything that they do.

To which “NoonaChoni” a 23 year old woman said:

I study away from home and I tell people that my National sports is archery. I am proud of Bhutan and everything I say about Bhutan brings me pride. However, when people ask me if I have played archery is when I drop my head. I am ASHAMED of the fact that I, as a Bhutanese woman, have not received the opportunity to play archery.

Meanwhile Cho, reflected on being a woman in Bhutan on the Writers Association of Bhutan blog

I have always thought that the place I grew up in was never sexist. I loved where my society placed me as a woman until recently….Today, women have risen up from the ground they have been pinned. This movement of finding the rightful place of women in our society is what I define as feminism.

I know there are respectable men out there who share similar ideas with me, which is why feminism is not just a woman’s problem.

And respectable men there might just be.

Rikku Dhan Subba, a male civil servant said on his blog :

… the author too superstitious?… A misogynistic view, I must say.

And Tshering Tobgay said this on his blog:

But they [Khuru players] are challenging convention … something we pride in our women.

2 comments

  • Lobxang

    The ‘Khuru’ Sport and feminist Movement? I am amused. The way I see it, a couple of ladies just got together and said; ‘Hey, let’s have some fun, let’s play Khuru!’ There ensued a whole lot of debates on the online forum. Some for it, some against it.
    What I find quite funny is, that our Bhutanese colleagues can often find the wrong reason to fuss about. To me personally, let them play it if they enjoy it. The more, the merrier.

    On the other hand, there are other larger issues that we need to be concerned about when it comes to the traditional sports like ‘Khuru’ and Archery. My main concern? Safety. Our traditional games are synonymous with booze. People get drunk and dance around ridiculously near the targets while arrows fly at high speed shot from power charged imported bows. Does anyone realize that it can actually kill someone? There had been many, many mishaps in the past, some even fatal and nobody made a fuss about it. A couple days of mourning and it was back to the sport. Judging by the number of incidences, it seems that we don’t always learn from history.
    Even the archery ranges are located just about anywhere, some smack in the centre of settlements where people actually live with their kids. I know there had been a couple of reports on the papers and people made a small fuss about the locations, but so far, no major changes have come into effect.

    Although archery is considered a sport the world over, we have to remember that those imported compound bows we prefer to use at home are weapons for hunting elsewhere.
    Considering the dangers and risks involved, I feel that there should be certain safety regulations like; license requirements to own a compound bow, pre-licensing safety training, age limits and ban of alcohol and other intoxicating substances from the sports fields. I know some will argue that we don’t need government oppression on a free sport, but hey, if it’s considered against the law to drive while drunk because you are risking people’s lives, you are doing the same when you shoot an arrow while your judgement is impaired with alcohol. And if you need to obtain a license to own a gun, which is a weapon, isn’t the bow and arrow a weapon too?
    I am surprised that even in the US, where we mostly import our bows from, it is not required to obtain a license to own one unless it’s used for hunting. But they do have proper safety regulations and the people have more sense of responsibility when it comes to human lives. Not to forget that they make proper use of the equipments at the right locations and for the right reasons.

    As a happy lot in a happy Kingdom, we cannot sacrifice fun for fear, but it doesn’t mean that we can be reckless about lives. There should be some sense of respect and safety for others as well as your own. And when it comes to women wanting to play it? Let them join the fun. Who is to judge who can have fun and who cannot? After all, we are all god’s own creation.

    • Neo Salivahana

      Your reply was not long and illustrious. Totally awesome!

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