Sunday, February 12, 2017

Caste and forced prostitution: A study of Bedia tribes 3/7

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 Bediais are one community that wants girls. But do they want girls because they have a sense of equality? Certainly not.

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 old tradition of inducting their daughters into sex-work.

For long, women have served as the lifeline 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 [4].

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).

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