Bedias – The Traditional Sex Workers in India
Prostitution, flesh trading and sex work are few words, which describe an individual, or group who make living by selling sex. How is it different from modern prostitution? In Bedias, it is a culturally and socially accepted form of earning livelihood. Entire community is labeled as Prostitution community. The tag also carries a sense of untouchable and immoral people. Members of community feel highly insulted in day-to-day social interaction outside the group. Of late, it is understood that sex work has stopped and Bedias have taken to normal economic activities like agriculture, job and milk selling. Their young ones are receiving school education. Some smart youth have also found entry at higher levels job in Government. Bedias are included in the tribal group. Hence, Government has special services and concessions for them. Some report even says that some hundred girls are withdrawn from flesh trading to the rehabilitation programs offered by NGO and the State. Bedia men and women in formal and informal discussions also support this version. It suits to all.
Like Bedias, all over the country, many population groups practice such organized prostitution. It is rare when such groups are found in a town and city. Bedias are not lone sex workers group. They are followers of Hindu belief system. In reality except worshipping Hindu gods, and accepting cultural values of dominant population, there is nothing else of Hinduism. Being
The scope of this paper is not to investigate the origin and causes of the sex trade. It is sufficient here to share some reality of people called Bedias. Borders of Rajasthan, UP and MP are some places where their existence is recorded since several hundred years. Bharatpur, Morena, Gwalior and Shivpuri are some places of their habitation. Many families have moved to towns either to increase earning or to live different life. Indian society is very quick to declare such practices as immoral and anti social. Bedia always live in the fear of rejection and criticism of neighbor and school and places of work.
It is no more a simple sex trade. It has become highly sophisticated where trafficking of girls is occurring at alarming pace.
Classically, the family will decide whom to introduce in this trade. With the changing tide, some girls get education and settle down as mainstream population. Bedia Boys are also receiving education and some of them stay away from the business of prostitution. Honestly when investigated carefully, it is surprising that prostitution is on the rise. In the village of Dabarpura in Pohri, Shivpuri in India, it is seen as normal for a girl to become a sex work. It’s being our old way of life. Discussion on Sex work does not arouse any emotional response. It is well embedded in the psyche of the Bedia community. Men and senior women give their consent. For the sake of argument, somebody will ask you” Where are jobs, how do we live” “we have no source of income, Government has not given us anything, no body helps us, and abuse and say unpleasant words.” The Dabarpura is almost key place for letting girls spread to other places .In Gwalior; two slums are known as Red Light Area. Police has put up a board “Prostitution is illegal here” From sunset, men start appearing and going in to house. Some men are posted on guard to alert if the police are around. Once in six months or so a police raid takes place. Next day newspapers cover story in all the details. That is it. Then Business as usual. Names these slums are Reshampura and Badana pura. In all there will be around 200 Bedia house hold. Men and women both are very articulate in concealing the information or explaining how the police and Government harass them without any fault of theirs.
From some distance it appears true that they are not at fault. They are simply doing what their ancestors were doing. But how young girls are being inducted in this trade. It is also reported the girls are stolen and purchased. Current trend is taking these girls to places. In Mumbai Bedia, girls work in bars and brothels. These places also act in finding customers for, Bedia girls. Series of girls went to Middle East to serve the elite and others. The girls stay there for about 4 to sex months. Then there is period of rest. Since it the period of good earning, girls lead lavish life style. Lots of gold jewelry, electronic gadgets and construction of house purchase of land are some the favorite investment. These girls act as inspiration for others. The network of intermediaries is notoriously active in all these happenings. They perform the role of setting up customers, travel and return. Money is mixed up at each step. It is a money making business after all, at the cost of lives of innocent girls. Bedia men have acquired much needed bargaining business qualities. Many of the senior women know in detail about the STD and HIV-AIDS. They keep visiting the clinics for test and treatment. These subjects are taken seriously and wisdom. They share that most customers do not like to use condoms. Things are changing now; educated customers carry the condoms for the protection. The old age of is the most miserable period of Bedia old women. Except those who run and manage the sex shops, others take to begging. No care is taken by the family, since family members are at long distances. As a byproduct of the sex trade, most women take to drinking, drugs and smoking. It becomes hard to find money for these additions.
Small minority of men who somehow manage to study, have taken to state jobs and medical practice. Political representation is also open to them. At the local self-governance, women and men both have climbed the ladder of power. Being a tribal community, they are entitled to many Government services. But they never seem to be interested. Major demand is the Government Job in Police and Class two officers. The positions of peon and gardener do not interest them. In an attempt to change things, some enthusiastic government officers tried to introduce things like marriages, creation of a new housing colony and provide some cash support for each family. It did not stay very long before these things disappear in to obscurity. It is interesting that local level prostitution flourishes with connivance of police. In the metros, they are much freer to serve customers in the hotels, and posh colonies. It is like hide and seek game between police and Bedia. However, the overall scene does not change much. Prostitutes of Mumbai and Kolkata are more organized and challenging the Government for issue of license for sex work. The groups with support NGOs are asking for their rights to livelihood and better health.
In Shivpuri, a Bedia NGO organized a conference in an effort to provide a platform for issue rising. It was an impressive show inaugurated by the some dignitary. The gathering prepared a memorandum for submission to the Political and Official machinery.
The present market and Satellite TV proving to be catalyst for the expansion of sex trade in the Country. Western media and films do not attach any stigma to the commercialization of sex. In an attempt to ape the life style of west, our society is also letting go the old notions of immorality associated with sex. The TV must be congratulated in helping the elimination of hesitation among the youth the remnants of the 20th century’s taboo on sex. One Bedia man wanted to know why are being looked down because of prostitution, while large number of people are also engaged in sex trade. Some weak arguments were given as reply-these are not minors (is that true), no body forces them (Is that true), that is for fun (is that wholly true). The discussion can on. Bedia are in the prostitution since ages. But it is no longer simply sex work. Today it is criminalized. Racket of middle men is active in lifting innocence girls from poor families by paying some money, or simply disappearing with infants in the hospital. This is causing serious concern. Network and groups of NGOs are working to check the trafficking of children. International agreements are signed by most countries to check the abuse of children and trafficking of girls. Local Government is also mandated to stop this.
With growing cost of living and lack of sources of livelihood the Bedia have more justifications to continue sex trade. India already finding hard to contain wide spread poverty and disease, Communities like Bedias may not find it easy to make two ends of the day meet. Entertainment of elite and common people through musical and singing shows was also an important source of earning in past. It is now dying art. The Music and entertainment is a full-fledged industry now. Inexpensive and variety of means of in house satellite TV, mobile music and viewing of clips have put Bedia out of work. As an organized campaign Bedia art of traditional singing and dancing may be protected. In the gone by days, Bedia artists were called to perform in the marriage celebrations. For this service, money was given to the artists. It is dying fast, but some scattered cases, even today they are invited to perform. If the folk art of singing and dancing is promoted, it can readily make available a source of earning for them. This may lift the status of this community. Senior members of the community could be invited for deeper analysis of the problem and possible short term and long term solutions. State could offer quality education and best hostel facilities to the children of the Bedia community. Under the Compulsory and free education Act parents may be educated to take advantage of the services. The trouble is the quality of education given by the Government is substandard. Most Government Schools are looked down by people. There is large scale teachers’ absenteeism and lack of genuine concern for the education of children, even more for girls. Beyond class fifth, girls keep dropping off. At the 10 and 12 level, number of girls number fall significantly. Beyond 12, college education is still a farfetched dream for most rural and Bedia girls. Compulsory education can certainly bring about turnaround of the attitudes of the Bedia Community. Their population is estimated to be around 20,000 spread over to several districts of MP, Rajasthan and UP. One positive thing about the current model of development, caste and creed do not occupy much important. One is recognized by his educational, economic and scientific achievements. World is now a small village. Old narrow divisions of caste or class are disappearing. Sambhav hopes that soon Bedias will also lead a life of respect and fulfillment.