Friday, October 01, 2010

Prostitution - In The Name Of Tradition!

In India, it’s the age of women empowerment. 33% of the seats in the parliament is reserved for the women. In rural India, village council must have 50% women members. The country has, for the first time in history, a woman president. In Uttar Pradesh – the country’s most politically powerful state, there is a Dalit(‘lower’caste) woman chief minister. But in the same state of UP men in a village have been, for generations, forcing their daughters and sisters into prostitution saying it’s their ‘tradition’.

Gunjan, a community correspondent of our IndiaUnheard program has just filed a shocking video about Natpura, a village near Lucknow – the capital city of Uttar Pradesh state, where for generations, men have been forcing their daughters and sisters into flesh trade.

The girls in the village are made to start serving clients when they are barely 11 or 12. Because they start so early, no girl here goes to school. No woman here gets married either. The reason is, no man from other villages wants to marry a girl from Natpura.

The most shocking fact is that almost every woman here believes that she is just carrying on a ‘village tradition’, though they don’t know what exactly makes this a ‘tradition’. This thought instilled in them by their family members and other male relatives in the childhood. So few girls protest or even realize that they are being exploited or their rights are violated.

Natpura, which comes under Hardoi district, has about 50 families. In every family, all the young women work as prostitutes and are the main bread earners. But when they are old and have retired from the profession, they live in extreme poverty and loneliness, abandoned by their relatives.

However, the male members of their families are free to live whichever way they want. So men here marry and bring home their brides, whom they protect well, keeping them away from prostitution. But when the same couples have female children, they bring them up only to later initiate them into prostitution.

Gunjan, the young correspondent who is from Uttar Pradesh, says that when she visited Natpura 4 years ago, she was totally unaware of the village’s dark truth. It was like any other Indian village with bad roads and homes with broken walls where barefoot children played around while men gathered in front of a tea shop, sipping tea, smoking and laughing. However, she had been surprised to see a number of women sitting in front of their house, as though waiting for someone.

It was only later she came to know that the women, who should have been ideally busy working in the field or kitchen, were waiting for their clients to arrive.

In past four years, however, things have changed a lot, but only for worse. Now girls are trafficked to work in brothels in cities like Mumbai and Dubai. These girls are also as young as 13/14 and don’t even know the meaning of prostitution when they are packed off to a brothel. In fact when Gunjan tried finding someone of her age to speak with, she couldn’t. Because, she was told, all the girls had gone abroad to ‘work’.

Today it’s mostly women who are thirty or more stay in the village. Their clientele includes several politically and economically powerful people. Most of who live in Lucknow – the state capital. Since these men pay well for the women’s services, men in the village are not willing to let the women leave or retire early from the profession.

The village has no schools, no electricity and no panchayat/village council of its own - facts that makes the village a perfect breeding ground of any social crime.

Gunjan says when she visited Natpura, she felt that this was not a part of the country she lived in. This is because all the talk of empowering women, ensuring their rights fall by wayside when one enters the village. This was the same reaction at IndiaUnheard office once Gunjan sent her footage for editing. Everyone sat around the editing table, listening to the interviews, with shock visibly written on their face.

Gunjan says, once she visited the village, she felt ‘compelled by conscience’ to share this story with the world, so it wakes up, takes notice and helps stop this utter injustice to women that has gone on here for long.

If you have read this far, it means, the wall of the isolation has already started breaking.

To see the plight of the women in the shocking video, click here.

Rohini Powar: Correspondent Par Excellence

A few months back I had first written about her - how she tasted empowerment just by dancing for an evening with a group of fellow rural reporters . For years, it was something she longed for. Now, back to village, she is voicing the same longing and feelings of other women like her, living in her own village of Walhe, Maharashtra. Meet Rohini Power again - this time as a community correspondent who can command anyone's respect.

Nag Panchami or the Snake festival has a totally different meaning for women in Walhe village of India’s Maharashtra. Rohini Powar, who lives in the same village, says that it is the only day of the year when married women like her are allowed to dance and play games, while for the rest of the year they are forbidden to do so.

Rohini, now a community correspondent of Video Volunteers' IndiaUnheard program, has just filed a video report that gives us an exclusive insight into this tradition which allows a rare chance to women in her community to enjoy freedom.

In the rural belt of India – a patriarchal society – women labour harder than men do, their areas of work stretching from home and kitchen to the paddy fields. Yet their lives are dogged with problems such as female infanticide/foeticide, early marriage, dowry, forced divorce, malnutrition, poor health and lack of education.

These are endemic problems existing in all states, irrespective of religion and communities. In Rohini's village also women are treated as inferior to men. So while men are free to do whatever they want, women’s movement is restricted and they must take special permission from their family members even to step out of their homes. They are especially forbidden to sing, dance or play in public view. Those who do so, are looked down upon as women of loose morality.

However, once in a year – on the day of Nagpanchami this bar is lifted and women are expected to dance and play games. So this day local women gather at the snake goddess temple to worship. However, what they really wait for is the moment when the worshipping is over and dance and games can begin. Once that moment comes, everyone joins in dancing and playing – acts that are otherwise considered a taboo.

Rohini says that throughout the year women like her look forward to this day when nobody will shout at them for dancing or, nobody will accuse them of breaking a tradition by playing. However, after this day, they will have to return to the life of restriction again. Rohini feels that this must change.

She wants the patriarchal society to change its thoughts and values, so that women like her will not have to enjoy for one long year to enjoy a day’s freedom.

Watch Rohini's candid report here