In a handful of villages in India, prostitution is a traditional way of making a livelihood. Parents, Uncles or brothers push the girl child into prostitution as soon as they think she can satisfy a customer. The tricks of the trade usually taught by the mother, the girl child begins her working life, with in-depth knowledge in different sexual positions and ways and means to please a customer.
These villages are located in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat. Please read on to understand, how these traditions were formed and why these girls need to be saved from this servitude.
NAT PURWA IN UTTAR PRADESH
Just 70km from the Uttar Pradesh’s Capital Lucknow, Nat Purwa is no different from any other village in Uttar Pradesh with its dusty roads and curious looking inhabitants. This agriculture based society holds a dirty secret that evolved into a tradition. In this village prostitution is a hereditary occupation passed on from one generation to the other. Definitely the woman are not happy in their traditional occupation, but when empty stomachs stare at their personal choices, they allow themselves to be the sacrificial goats.
The Nat community, where this tradition exists are traditionally performers like dancers, acrobats, jugglers and magicians. Some carry on as performers even today. It is believed that the introduction of Criminal Tribes Act in 1871 by the British India Government was the main reasons that pushed the women in the community into prostitution. Nats were listed as Criminal tribes and the police brutality outlawed their activities. Having denied their right to pursue their profession, prostitution emerged as a strategy for survival. As time passed, men in the village became lazy and cultivated the habit of living off their women. As a result the tradition has expanded exponentially over the years.
WADIA IN GUJARAT
Wadia, located at the Banaskantha district of North Gujarat is another village in India where prostitution is a traditional way of earning a living. The men in the village have turned themselves into pimps and openly solicit clients for the women of their family.
This village is inhabited by a nomadic tribe called Saraniyas. The mystery of what pushed Saraniyas to prostitution dates back to many centuries. Saraniyas were traditionally blacksmiths, well known in their skill of sharpening and shining swords and other metal objects used in war. Saraniyas had left their ancestral villages in Rajasthan with the army of Rana Pratap to fight the Moghul emperor Akbar. Their job was the upkeep of weapons for the troops, while the womenfolk tagged along to “entertain” the soldiers in spare time.
After the Battle of Haldighati, (in 1576) Rana Pratap made Kumbhalgarh his temporary capital and continued with his fight against the Mugals. But many of his defeated troopes got scattered and Saranyas took shelter in desert land in Tharad in Gujarat which was later named Wadia. Away from the battle field, Saranyas expertise in the upkeep of arms had no takers and the men lost their only means of livelihood. Instead of learning another trade, the men became dependent on their womenfolk. The women who used to entertain the soldiers of Rana Prathap by singing and dancing started entertaining the rich landlords of the area. Prostitution became the only option after the Zamindar system became obsolete after India gained independence.
Women here consider entering prostitution as normal. The birth of a girl is celebrated in this village, because a girl is seen a potential prostitute and a source of easy earning by families.
Bedia Tribe of Madhya Pradesh
The Bedia community calls it their khandaani dhandha, which means family business. For centuries, Bedia women worked as sex workers with the consent of their families. Bedia is a corrupt form of Behara. The Behara tribe make a living mostly by serving customers along the highway that passes through their land, needless to say truck drivers constitute a major percentage of their clientele. Girls as young as ten are pushed into prostitution.
Having witnessed their mother, aunts and elder sisters engaged in this family business, girls naturally accept their fate without any resistance. The girls believe marriage ruins their life and being a married woman is like being a ‘mule’, and therefore they willingly choose to accept to be paid for sex. The men in the village do not engage in any kind of paid work and lives the life of parasite.
Due to the nature of the trade, the community follows a matriarchal system. The responsibility of making both ends meet for a family falls into the hands of the eldest girl as soon as they reach puberty.
Devadasis of Karnataka
Devadasi or Servant of God, is a girl dedicated to God for the service of the deity for the rest of her life. In olden times, devadasis enjoyed high social status and were an essential part of the temple worship with their skills in temple dances like Bharata Natyam . Traditionally they became mistresses of rich patrons and continued honing their skills in music or dance instead of ending up as a house wife.
With the exit of Kings and Zamindars, Devdasis lost their traditional means of support and patronage. ‘Devdasi’ in olden days were a way of life which required strict adherence to traditions and spirituality, believed to have come to existence from dedicating girls to the temple. But as time passed, it became hereditary.
Devdasi system was prevalent across India. But they differed in form , context and in practise across India. It was customary in all systems that the girl to be married and dedicated to a deity.
But unfortunately, today, due to economic compulsions, Devadasi women are pushed into prostitution supported by tradition and opportunism.
In Karnataka, Southern state of India, Girls from poor families of the “untouchable”, or lower, caste are “married” to Yellamma, a local deity, as young as four. No longer allowed to marry a mortal, they are expected to bestow their entire lives to the service of the goddess. They are forced to spend the rest of their life as sex workers.