Friday, February 10, 2017

Caste and forced prostitution: A case of Nat community 2/7



Caste as a principle determinant of the forced prostitution is most visible in case of Nat communities, Bedia and Bachra tribes of North India. Nat community, the lowest in the traditional caste system were associated with the acts of performing folk arts. During the Monarchy days the women of this caste assumed the role of entertainers. But with the colonial encounter and subsequent weakening of the feudal empire these communities lost their traditional feudal patrons. In some regions, the women of these communities had to accept the prostitution as their profession since they belonged to the lower caste communities lacking opportunities at that time. Brahmins and upper caste lords saw this as an opportunity to do counter-revolution in order to strengthen their hold on the lower caste communities. The social morality of Shame which is attached to this profession was an instrument for the continuation of the culture of caste system. Women of nat community chose it in struggle for livelihood eventually complled to practice an intergenerational profession because women of these caste do not get opportunity to get out of it. [3].

In Punjab Nat claim to be by origin of Brahmin of Marwar, whose duty was supply of funeral pyres, on a particular occasion, as the community was transporting the funeral pyre, a member of the party died. This was seen as a bad omen, and the communities were outcasts. They therefore, took the occupation of dancing. Not very surprisingly, the Nat who claim to be by origin of Brahmin still don’t practice intergenerational prostitution. This shows the entrenchment of caste hierarchies.

Interestingly, it was not only in the expediency of the caste system but British colonial rule also wanted this to be continued. Whatever they may say about modern ideals at surface level, British government too was not interested as such to abolish such practice. However, colonial rule outlawed devdasi system but did not ensure its implementation. British colonial rule wanted some prostitutes to satiate the sexual desire of their army personnel and they knew it well that upper caste women would not take up to this profession. Therefore, these kinds of traditions perpetuated and forced prostitution became a need of British rule. This attitude of colonial rule transformed this tradition into one of organized/intergenerational prostitution.

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