In the heart of India (Madhya Pradesh) when the desire for girl child urged, it is sad to know that was for making them "sex workers". When people thought of taking dowry in the light of giving their daughters , it is again sad it was to discourage the marriage of sisters in Bedia community , for this will mean "loss of livelihood" to them. At-last, for once when attaining puberty by a girl is a cause of celebration not curse of impurity, that celebration is for her "nath-utarai". Isn't it sad ? No! it is not sad, this is her plight.
A world where people are fighting over less salaries Bedia girls are fighting to find their clients who can pay them handsomely in return for sexual favors. Doling out sexual favors to men in exchange for money is an age old tradition. In ancient times these sex workers were known as devdasi's to the kings (particularly), then as the time changed they used to serve wealthy land owners and now from trucker drivers to a billionaire anyone can be their source of income. "We were not like this, we were nomads . We used to beg and dance to earn livelihood but one day one of our ancestor started this and it continues till date", says a bedia women. Originally skilled in folk arts of dance and music, rural acrobatics and black magic, Bedias just like the Bancharas adopted the peculiar practice of introducing their eldest daughters into prostitution. The custom evolved, as a defense mechanism, when they adopted an extremely nomadic lifestyle to avoid colonial administration. Not just Bedia but there are many communities who have adopted the same source of livelihood like Banchada, Kanjar, Sansi and Bedia-Nut. Ironically, the males of this community prefer being at home and their only work is to visit local courts to deal with the police cases registered against their sisters. Habitual of not working and condescending their wives as they will never marry a girl of their own community. First due to high dowry they have to give to girl's family. Second, due to virginity of the girl. Yes, people who are eating the fruits from prostitution are hypocrite enough to marry only a virgin. their wives are generally not allowed to leave home. Only the daughters and sisters of this community work. "Women born into a Bedia family remain unmarried. They engage in prostitution in order to provide for the economic needs of their natal family. And Bedia men have developed a strong resistance to any change in their mode of living", writes Anuja Agrawal (Chaste Wives, and Prostitute Sisters: Patriarchy and Prostitution among the Bedias). Moreover the men of this community are treated just as small children and are made to feel important about little things they do. For many of the married men with grown-up children, "shopping in the city" is the foremost among the activities they do. Similarly, irrigating the fields occasionally or getting fuel-wood from the forest are all bestowed with a disproportionate importance. Thus, even though most Bedia men do not contribute much to their family income, they are not allowed to confront this fact on a day-to-day basis.The security of living in a home with no responsibility is not something Bedia men are willing to easily give up. A very important reason that these girls don't want to be rescued from this evil is the respect they get in their society which other women don't due to the patriarchal framework. In 1999-2000, most Bedia women didn't use to accept anything less than Rs.50 from any of their customers for a single visit. This minimum figure had been raised to Rs 100 by 2002. Women also said that the "rate" depends upon their perception of the paying capacity of the customer. In fact, Rs 100 is said to be the rate for a sadak-chaap (run-of-the-mill) customer while a man who seems better off can even be asked to cough up Rs 500. Westerners and other foreigners are welcomed for their "dollars" and generally higher paying capacity. Even the curiosity value of the hamlet sometimes earns the community members gifts in money and kind (soap, shampoos, lipsticks, ball-pens, etc.) from passing foreign tourists. According to them, the earnings in Mumbai are much higher than Nagla or even Delhi brothels. One girl can easily earn anything between Rs 2,000 to 3,000 in a night's work.The women also claimed that the chances of their finding a stable, reliable, and wealthy patron were much better in Mumbai than elsewhere. Such men often provided the women with living accommodation worth Rs 700,000-800,000, gave them Rs 20,000-30,000 toward their monthly expenses and did not hesitate in parting with another 50,000-100,000 if the women asked them to do so for any special occasion.
Actually, this is not a profession but a multi-faceted problem. First, a large women trafficking network is active in the districts of Shajapur, Rajgarh, Guna, Sagar, Sheopur, Morena, Shivpuri, Sagar and Vidisha. The girls are sold to brothels in the State, the neighbouring State of Uttar Pradesh (especially in Meerut and Agra), Rajasthan, and the rest of the country. To fight this, Ram Sanehi, 65- year-old Bedia had taken up the task to prevent the traditional introduction of their daughters into prostitution. In order to prevent them he went to court mainly concerned for the bad situation of bedia girls but court looked at the problem in totality and ordered a probe to rekindled hopes of a better life to the women of at least four other denotified tribes The court, therefore, asked the government to act on both fronts: First, clamping down the trafficking network by enforcing Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act (SITA) at all vulnerable zones and appointing special police officers to implement the same. The latter were to be monitored by a machinery at the "top level. "But merely two such arrests were made till late 1998! That too during the reign of a particular district collector who took interest in a number of social issues. Even a Gwalior High Court Bench (1990) directed the Madhya Pradesh Government to take specific steps to eliminate traditional prostitution. The Government formulated the six-phase Jubali Yojana but even the first phase of the scheme has not been implemented. The government campaign Nirmal Abhiyan was carried out on a large scale in Mandsor. Many young girls were forcibly married off on the premise that marriage was the only way to end prostitution.The results were disastrous. Many of the "husbands" were traffickers who sold the women and absconded with the money. One of the very interesting tale that is told is about a rich king who abducted a kanjar girl. The girl, it is said, extracted her revenge by putting the king's daughter into prostitution. Therefore leaving the Bedia girls with this couplet (written below) is the best thing society can serve them.
"it was never when her wings couldn't bear her flight;
but those misogynist wings , kept her from flying......"
Article contributed by Snigdha Jindal, our guest writer. Snigdha is a journalism graduate from GGSIPU. A thinker, day dreamer and an avid reader.