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They Prostitute Their Girls: The Bedia

July 10, 2010

photo credit: Renu Parkhi (ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

by Rita Banerji

While India’s loathing of daughters leads to more than a million female feticides each year, and the killing of thousands of new born girls, the Bedia is one community that wants girls.

When a woman is pregnant, the family hopes it will be a girl.  Not a boy.

What makes the Bedia’s stance on girls different from that of the rest of India?

It is their centuries old tradition of inducting their daughters into sex-work.

For long,  women have served as the life-line of the Bedia community.  There is a ceremonial initiation of girls soon after puberty in a ritual called ‘Nath Utrai.’  Because of the normalcy of this practice, it is not viewed as “prostitution,” but as a time-honored tradition.

The Bedia women who get married may discontinue the work.  However that would mean a loss of revenue for the family and community.  Probably to discourage that, the norm has been for Bedia men to pay a large bride-price for a Bedia bride.  Hence, Bedia men usually marry women from outside communities.

Prior to India’s independence the Bedia women would serve wealthy land-owners and feudal lords, and be handsomely rewarded with cash and jewelry.  Anuja Agarwal, author of Chaste Wives, and Prostitute Sisters: Patriarchy and Prostitution among the Bedias, who has spent much time getting to know the Bedia, says that  many migrate to cities and urban red-light districts in search of work, and can have very high earnings, up to Rs.30,000/- a month (60 times India’s poverty level income).

Government and social workers have found it difficult to wean the community away from this practice, to introduce them to education, and to engage them in more main-stream work.  The community remains insular and resistant.  This is largely because, even at the lower income end, as Agarwal points out, the Bedia women can still earn between 4-10 times the amount that unskilled workers in India earn. However, the concern is also regarding the spread of HIV and other STDs among the Bedia.

Another very important reason for the resistance to change according to Agarwal is that the Bedia men have got used to a “comfortable” living which entails little or “no responsibility,” since the men traditionally have always been unemployed.  And they are not “willing to easily give [this] up.”

photo credit: Tribhuvan Tiwari in Outlook Magazine, Jan 2007

Besides the Bedia, there are other tribal communities such as the Kanjars, Nuts and Sanshis, where sex-work traditionally has been the primary means of community revenue. This is perhaps in some ways is similar to the Devdasi (temple prostitution) system prevalent in other parts of India.

However, unlike the Devdasis, the Bedia women who work, have a certain degree of financial autonomy, are respected within their community and have a higher social status than those who don’t work and the women from outside communities who marry in.  This could be another reason why the Bedia women don’t want to voluntarily discontinue their tradition.   Still, there seems to be a bizarre attempt at redefining the Bedia’s sense of “morality.” In the photo here, Bedia girls inducted into schools, are being taught the following message by rote: “A bad man is better than a bad name!”

What is perhaps is more important though is the question of what it means to be born a girl in the Bedia community.  To be forced into prostitution while still a child, at the age of 12 or 13, and to not have the freedom or will to choose their lives differently.  It is a pointer towards a critical issue the government of India has persistently dithered on – that of protecting children’s rights.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rita Banerji is an author and gender activist, and the founder of The 50 Million Missing Campaign to end India’s female genocide.  Her book ‘Sex and Power: Defining History Shaping Societies, is a historical and social look at how the relationship between gender and power in India has led to the ongoing female gendercide.  Her website is www.ritabanerji.com She blogs at Rebellions in my Space and tweets at @Rita_Banerji

ABOUT THEABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Renu Parkhi is a supporting member of The 50 Million Missing Campaign’s Photographers Group on Flickr  which is supported by more than 2400 photographers from around the world.   To see more of each of her works, please click here.

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31 Comments leave one →
  1. Nandini Bhatt permalink
    July 11, 2010 4:50 am

    A lot of questions you have raised here for us to ponder upon Great work!
    Tribal issues, Traditional issues, Community issues and more importantly issues for the Government to deal with it.
    Even though these are age old problems, it is never too late to make a beginning, what with newer problems adding on to their existing ones like HIV.
    Thought provoking post.

  2. July 11, 2010 10:32 am

    The school programs may seem like something positive but just a farce.

  3. Adv Mini Mathew permalink
    July 12, 2010 1:24 pm

    You have done a good job . keep it up

  4. July 16, 2010 8:24 am

    To Educate the Bedia community mean to make them ready for Change.The process of change is very slow when you are trying to change century’s old traditions and culture and questio the privileged position of the male as the are the sole beneficiary of Bedia women’s earnings.Its not more than just a cliche that men are more honour bound then women,and Bedia’s men are an ample testimony to this fact.We also should join hands to uproot such cruelties from our societies.

  5. Aspipssuipaps permalink
    September 7, 2010 6:53 pm

    Very Interesting!
    Thank You!

  6. sheron permalink
    December 22, 2010 5:16 am

    We cannot force this people to change this tradition which is century’s old. Best thing gov. or we can do is to educate them about safe sex.poverty is main issue here and i don’t think there will be an effective solution for this in next 3 to 4 decades.And prostitution is not a bad profession in the world (from my point of view, i am from UK). I love india and indian culture. I think what ever greatness u have in india is because of u r Family conspect of living.And i know most of indians hate the system of prostitution. But without prostitution, there will be a tremendous increase in rape and violence on woman. Which is not accepted by anyone in the world.Prostitution is always a part of civilization in the past and present.it is one of the oldest profession in the world.

    The best thing the gov. of india and social workers can do is to change the way of practice of prostitution in india. Most of this community communities such as the Kanjars, Nuts ,Sanshis and Bedia dose not know any think about Birth control & contraception. I heard gov. of india is issuing some birth control stuff for free through their public hospitals.
    that was very welcomed.But make sure it reaches grassroots especially this communities.

    There are some studies shows that all classes of society is approaching prostitutes for there service.Even gov. of india baned prostitution in country. So only solution for this is to encourage Birth control & contraception for prostitutes, so that u people can eliminate AIDS and Other sexual decease from in india which is one of the largest in AIDS

    • December 24, 2010 4:48 am

      @sheron — True that there cannot be a prejudice against the profession, and in states like West Bengal for example sex-workers have formed unions and are in the process of demanding legal recognition of their profession along with all the rights, protections and privileges that employees in other professions are entitled to. However, the Bedia and Devdasi situations are different. Here you have little girls of 11-13 who are forced into the profession, and they little choice and control in the matter. It the livelihood for their families and essentially makes them sort “sex slaves” for the rest of their lives. This is akin to sex-trafficking of children and the government must intervene, because the right and safety of every child must be ensured.

    • raymonica hiwatari permalink
      March 22, 2012 8:40 pm

      Well i am a student and what i have read about such communities and came across is that the main problem is that the people of these communities mainly have problem regarding their family status(financially) and also they have a easy grip or access to the profession of prostitution. And have to say that this artical is really good.

    • September 20, 2012 5:44 pm

      “without prostitution, there will be a tremendous increase in rape and violence on woman”

      Which means that prostituted women get to have sex with these violent rapists, how lucky for the prostitutes! If we are against violence, then there should be a prejudice towards the sex trade and its demanders, not towards the women and girls in it.

      According to many prostituted women, the vast majority of prostitution IS rape (paid rape) and sadistic violence towards prostituted girls & women of all classes and ethnicities because that is their role — sub-human commodities to be bought, sold and traded in all aspects of the sex trade. Prostitution is not the oldest profession, it is the oldest oppression (and certainly not part of every culture, past or present). Legalizing/de-criminalizing it has shown to increase trafficking and decrease safety for the women. It is a very divided issue, I try to listen to all sides, but my focus is on the voices that are most harmed and marginalized, and what they say about their realities in the sex trade, which they report is the overwhelming majority experience. I invite you to check out rmott62.wordpress.com and theprostitutionexperience.com for a personal and political account of the prostitution experience (and how child prostitution/trafficking isn’t much different than adult, just a specific “niche” of the sex trade being filled). They also say the “happy hooker” is a myth, and that this happy hooker privileged group is a very small minority of the sex trade. (I know what I just said wasn’t Bedia-specific but I wanted to comment on the general sentiment expressed about the sex trade in some of the comments).

      Focusing on improving the conditions that push women into the sex trade – at any age – will surely solve much of the problem, and doing so requires the participation of many different people and groups. The mentalities need to change first, and that is the hardest part, as this article discusses.

      My heart goes out to child brides and child and adult sex slaves, no child (or adult) should ever have to endure this. The Bedia community’s lack of response and care around this reminds me of Thailand’s child sex trade/tourism, though there seems to be a general universal lack of response to prostitution/trafficking in cultures that have it, whether it’s child or adult. I know there are christian organizations that are doing good work in rescuing child sex slaves, but this good and important work shouldn’t come with a religious imposition as a requirement to get help.

  7. August 3, 2011 6:28 am

    Am a lawyer by profession and it was by way of going through a case that i came to know about the Bedia community. When googled, i got to read this article.Thoroughly engaging and informative.

  8. Veerendra Mishra permalink
    December 5, 2011 3:40 am

    The tradition has taken a new twist with commercial angle dominating the community sanctioned custom. Girls from other communities have been found in Bedia and Bachara community in Madhya Pradesh who were bought for forced prostitution. This reveals how generation based tradition has merged with trafficking and criminality. This leaves lot to think for us as how the State should look into this issue. Over exposure, interaction with traffickers from outside, demand overdoing supply are many factors that have corrupted the traditional values. Is it mere prostitution or trafficking? A fresh study is required to ascertain the current status in these communities.

    • December 5, 2011 9:26 am

      @Veerendra — Even if this was a tradition, it still is a violation of child rights, because a child is too young to make decision for herself, and the parents should not have the right to offer her as a sexual service for money. However, the point you make is very important too. There are many such institutions, which in the name of tradition have become a convenient form of the national sex trafficking network. For eg. another issue we are aware of is that of the ‘Paros.’ The brides who are ‘bought’ and sold in areas where the gender ratios are very low so men can’t find brides. In these areas Paros are often shared by many men in a family, used for reproduction, and then re-sold, sometimes 2-3 times. This is also sex-trafficking!! And the police and legal systems need to crack down on this.

    • September 20, 2012 5:46 pm

      Many prostituted women say there is no real difference between porn, prostitution and trafficking, that they are all one and the same and feed into and off of eachother.

  9. Waheed permalink
    January 16, 2012 5:54 pm

    This is a time to change, Is this the right face of India.Stop no more prostitution.

  10. sanjay pagare permalink
    February 1, 2012 6:23 am

    i want request all respective persons who work with infected woman in sex work proffetion please give me information for infected protitution base on community
    myself sanjay pagare ihaving degree in social work. i will try to study of community which is belong to field so please kindly request ngo, respective persons give me information

    thanks

  11. Ruchi Vardhan, SP Rajgarh, M.P. permalink
    April 14, 2012 2:36 pm

    I agree with what Veerendra added to the post. Being a police officer myself, I came across a case in Bhopal where a missing girl child was traced in a Bedia family in Gwalior being brought up as their own child properly tutored not to reveal anything to the police if ever she is recovered and only to be assimilated in the family in due course and to be sent to their family outposts in Nagpur and Mumbai on achieving puberty to be pushed into their so called traditional business of sex workers. The startling fact was that similar senior girls of the same family working in the Red light areas of these metros know that they are the daughters of the family and they are doing this business as part of their traditional livelihood. What they and we do not know is that they are not the real daughters of any Bedia family. To our surprise our team recovered at least 10 girl children ranging from the age of three an a half years to twelve, all lured away or abducted from different places of Bhopal exploiting their difficult circumstances through a very well established organised cime nexus selling and purchasing them at 4-5 points finaly ending their journey in a Bedia house only to convert them into sex-slaves in future. The girls at their tender age did not even remeber their original homes and names of parents once they adapt to different family circumstances, traditions and values. Nothing can be a greater crime than pushing our girls into such a situation where they for the rest of their lives do not know that they as a human being deserve a life of dignity like anyone else. Almost 25 accused were nabbed in this entire chain cutting across Bedia, Sansi, Kanjar communities as well as a gang of women lifters mostly beggers and rag-pickers. Many of them received sentences in different cases. I am collecting the entire data regarding this case belonging to year 2009. The revelation is that Bedia community marries their own original daughter when the time comes, but assimilates these abducted girls at a very tender age into their family and pushes them into prostitution later on even without their knowledge in the garb of their tradition. The mother or the daughter-in-law of the family controls the entire business taking work from these so called daughters of the house and keeps the entire earning in their hands giving only a meagre amount to these girls only to maintain themselves. These girls take it as their family’s tradition and never question their fate. We need to understand this crime and book these criminals so as to stop this activity. A large scale survey with DNA analysis of these families having girls needs to be undertaken to identify the victims. Strong actions are needed against the families and criminals involved in trafficking of girls in the name of their tradition.
    Ruchi Vardhan, SP Rajgarh, M.P. at ruchivardhan1@gmail.com

  12. April 26, 2012 1:35 am

    Having worked for a human rights NGO in India for a year that dealt with some Bedia girl cases, this community has fascinated and saddened me. I’ve tried to research it a bit, but there’s not a whole lot about it. I don’t really know if the government is doing anything, but does anyone know of any local or international NGO’s working in these areas? The brief information I’ve founds seems to indicate that no one has been very successful. Just curious…

    • April 27, 2012 10:41 am

      Yes, there are NGOs and government efforts. One of the biggest problems is that the men of the community have got used to being economically dependent on the girls through sex work.

  13. April 29, 2012 10:04 am

    you had give very good detail about the origin of red alert area

  14. May 20, 2012 8:43 am

    good job! keep working !

  15. Nandini Mondal permalink
    September 25, 2012 8:04 pm

    Another shocking aspect of Indian society. It arises question of being right and wrong. Where some parts in the country female child is being killed, here they get their part of respect and the right to live.
    While it also arises the question of morality, HIV and social ordere. There is a need to educate and creating awareness to the girls of this community.

  16. September 27, 2012 7:37 am

    in Nepal, there are some communities like ‘badi’ and others. the males of those communities become pimps of their sisters, daughters, wives; and women work as sexual workers or prostitutes. some so-called NGOs get money from donors in their names. but it has not changed their life-styles. they are still involving in their old traditional prostitution profession due to lack of education, employment, poverty and so on. this should be a subject of shame for Nepal’s government, for us.

  17. November 8, 2012 4:23 pm

    What really is a horror are the girls of mere age of 12 -13 really forced into prostitution? or it is a rare occurence that you saw while intospecting???

  18. Rahul permalink
    April 5, 2013 8:58 am

    वेश्यावृत्ति (prostitution) एक शुल्क के लिए ग्राहकों की आवश्यकताओं जैसे यौन संतुषिट के लिए शरीर को बेचना है जिससे एक महिला को आजीविका कमाने का मौका मिले। प्राचीन काल से ज्ञात वेश्यावृत्ति का मतलब है कि आप किसी महिला के साथ यौन संबंध बनाने के बाद उसका भुगतान पैसों से करें, यह धरती का सबसे पुराना व्यवसाय है। वेश्यावृत्ति जिसकी उपसिथति प्राचीन युग से है समाज में मान्य और अमान्य दोनों के तराजू पर बराबर है। यह एक तरह का व्यापार है जिसमें देह और इज्जत दोनों की नीलामी होती है। वेश्यावृत्ति में न सिर्फ महिला के देह का सौदा होता है बलिक उसकी मर्यादा को भी बेच दिया जाता है। अब ऐसे में सवाल उठता है कि आखिर हम इसे मान्यता देते ही क्यों और किन हालातों में यह समाज में उत्पन्न हुआ?

    http://www.aajkiawaaz.com/nation/603-india-trapped-in-toils-of-prostitution.html

  19. srikant permalink
    October 27, 2013 1:22 am

    We are running away from the truth. We are living with a failure face. There is no more humanity left in us. We are just bracing the failure happily and only do useless advocating. Urge, at least wake up and save the society.

  20. October 27, 2013 1:21 pm

    The first thing any feminist in India needs to do is to first give up their caste name. Yes, the atrocities in India starts with the name of caste. Will you do it first Rita “Banerji”??
    When Devadasi system was abolished in Tamil nadu , upper caste hindus objected it as they said that it is a ‘service to God’ and they cannot stop the ‘tradition’ of the castes that are devoted to the ‘service of God’ ! Dr.Muthulakshmi who fought against this barbaric tradition said ‘ if you who say that it is service to God why shouldn’t you send women from your family to serve God and get more blessings.

  21. December 26, 2014 6:46 pm

    Reblogged this on iheariseeilearn.

  22. December 27, 2014 1:14 pm

    Reblogged this on Thoughts And Views That Matter! and commented:
    This is so sick

  23. July 2, 2015 12:35 am

    Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands and they have way less violence than the US. The govt. monitors the prostitutes and hauls them in for not using condoms. The women are not subjected to the violence they are subjected to here. The murder rate of their prostitutes is much lower than ours. And who are we to say that a man can not have sex outside of marriage? What about the men and women who don’t want to be married or in a relationship?
    It is time we looked at our own problems and possible solutions. What this community is doing is much better than the community of men who kill their wives every time they get bored or want a new dowry.

  24. September 26, 2016 12:19 pm

    I have documented my experiences about the Bedia community in Madhya Pradesh. Please view my article here:
    https://wordpanache.wordpress.com/2016/09/06/ritualistic-sex-slavery/

Trackbacks

  1. Parents in Hyderabad are SexTrafficking Their Daughters’ Into Pretense “Marriages” for a Night | CITIZENS REPORT VIOLENCE ON WOMEN AND GIRLS IN INDIA

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