Trafficking of Sahariya Girls

Some days ago, it was reported that that about two dozens of Sahariya girls were bought by Bedia families. Newspapers carried this story around30th of August 2012. It is not first time. It is often the case. Hence does not cause any ripples in the minds of people. Poverty and simplicity expose the Saharias to numerous such atrocities. All that they had now belongs to others. They kept accepting the dictates of powerful and the state. The state saw them as poor, illiterate and helpless. It wanted to play a role of Guardian.  Government meant its workers. They carried their prejudice against Tribals. They lost no opportunity of grabbing and taking over the control of Sahariyas land. The elite and strong also bought this support for their selfish motives.

One issue has been resonating in the Sahariya region is sexual abuse of girls and women. Cases of abduction and kidnapping of girls are also reported. Sahariya girls leave homes in morning with goats. Goats’ searches food and girls collect dry wood for cooking. It is a common sight. The miscreants   take advantage of such situations and perpetrate sexual crime.  It’s always a case of rape. It happens so often that with Sahariya women that the community does not react with anger or shock. Sahariya is already scared of our Government system and Police behavior. They would find it of no value approach them for any justice. Police and Forest Department are also seen as aggressor. Such stories abound that police and forest people have caused these crimes. In some cases, people dare and organize for justice. Number of such reporting is on rise. In remote and isolated hamlets, the law of jungle rule. Once I overheard two Sahariya women whispering that we were two and they were three.  Three men were trying to drag one woman for forced sex the other two women tried to pull away the woman but did not succeed. Then these women gave and went back to village. The victim woman came back after few hours.

Sahariya woman is also taken for second informal wife my many rich farmers. It is a well calculated move. These families take benefit of Government Schemes for Tribal in her name. She is an unpaid labour and available for sex. Woman also finds it much time more assuring in the face of hunger and deprivation. That’s the most common argument given for such relationships.  Here comes the wider issue.  There is in place a system of persuading parents for sale of their girls for better future. Generally somebody from the community starts working as broker or agent. He or she will keep eye on growing children and preparing parents for sending them away for money. Some girls are taken by men who find hard to get married. These generally come from the population where sex ratio is skewed. Number of women is falling due to pervert bias in favor of a male child. It is almost an established tradition now. These men get women from far off places. These are bought against a price. The price could be anything from Rs 30,000 to 1, 00,000. In cases where girl or woman refuses to listen to their parents, other more inhuman methods are used. Stolen girls are also become part of similar trade. In some isolated cases these girls have refused to yield and they may fight for their liberty.  In one example, a woman from upper caste family was sold to one lower caste men. Eventually, the woman refused to stay and went to some other person.

Sahariya girls are also finding way into prostitution. Members of Bedia community are engaged in taking these girls to the sex trade. It begins by spreading trap around some wicked minded people in Sahariya community. Offers are made of cash and false promises of better future for girls. In a Village of Shivpuri in MP, a Sahariya woman was helping Bedias in reaching out families with young girl child. She would entice parents with offers of price. She succeeded in taking several girls to places of sex trade in metro city of Mumbai. Accidently, one girl was spotted by somebody in Gwalior town, about 100 kms to the north of Shivpuri. Later it led to discovery of an organized racket of girl trafficking. Girls are bought by paying some cash and then moved to several places where these are introduced to the flesh trading. If we go by the information available this crime is going on for more than decade. It is normal to hear people saying that it was better than dying of hunger and poverty. Sahariyas are the still living in their traditional and primitive social order. All the efforts by the government for their development have resulted in little change. They continue to be dependent on forest and subsistence agriculture. In the face of modern complicated governance and internet technology, they suffer on all counts. Hence, unless there are robust programs of sustainable livelihood for Sahariyas, the girls will be sold and bought.

The present model of development leaves no hope for any change. Loss of sources of survival like land and forest, they are migrating to road side and urban settlements. The pressure of living cost will force them to go for prostitution and other unpleasant modes of earning. Two other  issues of concern in this regard are- falling sex ratio of women  and plight of families working at stone quarry sites. In this region, for several years, continuous decline in sex ratio is recorded. In some pockets the number of women is barely 860 for 1000 men. This imbalance will continue to force men to look for wife through the means of lifting women or buying and selling them. It’s quite a flourishing business as per local rural opinion.Other horrible stories have come from the stone quarries. Labour families camp at the makeshift housing at these places. The quarry owners or his people often force the labour women and their daughters for sex. Everybody is so helpless in the face of arms and brutal assault of people. Once, it leaked in a local newspaper that women were paraded naked. These places are generally away from main roads and reach of Administration. Hence, jungle raj prevails here. It’s quite common to find children borne out of such relationship in Sahariya families. Color and other physical traits clearly separate such children from aboriginal features. The community does not observe any prejudice towards such children. Our experience shows that such sexual relations are giving birth to a mixed race among them. In Ghatigaon and Shivpuri such mixed generation is seen almost in each habitation. Since it’s caused by atrocities on simple hearted women and girls, legal responsibilities need to be decided. It’s a sensitive issue; mothers and families have to get organized for such matters. The state can make a declaration that such behavior by men will not be free of consequences. It reminds of Vietnam where American soldiers were responsible for several hundreds of children borne out of their sexual relationships. In Sahariyas it is predominantly a case of forced sex.

We are also reminded of a story where a young Sahariya couple was attacked by armed group in Ghatigaon. It is from a village called Pul Ka Pura. The Boy’s beheaded body was found in the woods. But the girl was kidnapped. Sahariyas got together and launched a protest and demanded enquiry and arrest of the culprits. Police did not succeed in finding the perpetrators. The girl returned home after few months. No one knows who was responsible? The region in discussion is also chronically known for gangs of dacoits and robbers. Formed on caste lines and traditional rivalries, rival families and villages are targeted. Blood bath takes place when they get opportunity to avenge. Sahariyas suffer since they live in the neighborhood.  They are forced to supply food, liquors and send their women to the fearful gang. These stories are heard in every house and   office here. In the process many minor girls and women are gang raped. All along Sahariya population, such stories are heard. Local newspapers have also covered them. It becomes even worse when police tortures them for information on these groups. They are legally prosecuted as informers for alerting the bandits about the police movements. Hence Sahariyas suffer inhuman treatment at the hands of Bandits and police. Some Robin Hood stories are also popular. One being, that they do not show disrespect towards women. They only target their enemies. If these are true, there may be rare. Much of this is glorification of terror and violence. In reality, they cause death, destruction and misery to the people.    

How one should address to the question of nexus between hunger and prostitution? Sahariyas have nothing to survive on. No land, no forest and no dignity and no nothing.  Does such situation lead to prostitution? This is true. When survival is at stake people go to crimes, begging and stealing. In few years time, socio-cultural scenario is changing. National highways pass through these regions. Truckers and food and liquor shops also make money by indulging in selling sex of girls from their families. It is spreading. Soon there are going to be three and four lane highways. Cable TV is already beaming down the culture full of fashion, films and wealth.  It must be impossible to remain unaffected with these developments. The broker assures the parents that their girls will have a decent and rich life. There will plenty of food and beautiful clothes. Offer of money is also made. Actual money may anything, but parents will get 20-30 thousand. The rest goes into the pockets of middlepersons.  Men and women both are involved in this illegal trade. Prostitution is already a traditional profession of Bedias. They are continuing the sex trade notwithstanding the government and legal prohibitions. Nothing has deterred them.  Girl child are lifted from hospitals, kidnapped from market places. Bought from families of Sahariyas and like of, and sent to places for grooming. A chain of places are included.

Gwalior and Nagpur are such two places. Every care is taken that outsiders do not meet them and talk to them. Girls are beaten, kept hungry and imprisoned in dark rooms. Torture and harassment eventually convert them in to living human robots. All efforts to convince them that they are engaged in some illegal and ugly business go without any effect. Parents and children both refuse to accept that they have done anything wrong.Some success is quoted by activists and police in removing girls from prostitution to the other means of livelihood. In Dabarpura, the Bedias had absolutely no repentance for sending their daughters in to flesh trade.  For them, it is their profession since ages, and they do not see any other earning opportunity for survival. At present juncture, it does not look likely that the profession of prostitution going to scale down. But legal and social action may protect young and minor girl child being forced in to trade. Our institutions will have better education, health and employment opportunities for the all the families. Poverty will not be cause of dehumanizing practices.


Director, Sambhav

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