There is a community in India in which girls have sex in front of their mothers. They have intercourse with people after charging money ranging from a paltry Rs. 5 to maximum Rs. 200. This community is called Banchra who live in 65 villages situated on highways of Neemuch district in Madhya Pradesh. The community is in flesh trade for centuries and all efforts to dissuade them from it have failed. Here, mother herself searches for client sitting on roadside and brings him to her house to have paid sex with her daughter. Sometimes, sexual act is done right in front of mother due to lack of space in shanty (small cottage).
Custom in the Banchchara community in western Madhya Pradesh demands that the eldest girl born to a family must become a prostitute in order to support the rest. When the matter came to public attention a few years ago, there was concern that such a practice should still persist. In February 1983, the state Assembly had unanimously adopted a resolution urging the Government to make special efforts to eradicate this social evil. Principal Correspondent N.K. Singh and Staff Photographer Pramod Pushkarna visited the tribe in Mandsaur and Ratlam districts to discover that nothing has changed. His report:
Under the dim light of a naked bulb hanging from the roof of the hut, the family has just sat down for a quiet dinner. Father, mother, brothers, sisters, sisters – in – law and children sit on the floor to eat their meal – makke ki roti and saag. It is a scene characteristic of any happy family in the countryside.
A truck comes to a screeching halt outside. The driver climbs down and walks in. A girl hurriedly finishes her meal and accompanies the tipsy driver to a room and closes its door. The other family members continue to eat silently.
The girl, the eldest in her family, along with others like her in western Madhya Pradesh’s Banchchara community, practises the oldest profession in the world. But the girls, who are known as khilawadis (one who plays), do not live in brothels and consider themselves superior to common prostitutes.
Says Shanti, just turned 19: “We are not prostitutes. We don’t solicit customers.” In fact, they share the same roof with the family’s married women but are usually given a separate room, or even an outhouse, to entertain their customers.
Indeed, prostitution in the community (total population: 5,000) is socially sanctioned. Every fifth woman in the community is a khilawadi. But these women are respected and, in the joint families, their position is often more powerful than that of male members.
The Banchchara prostitutes suffer no social stigma. In some families, their position is stronger than that of men.
They suffer no social or ritual taboos, and participate in festivals like Raksha Bandhan with their families. The sole restriction on the khilawadis is that they forfeit the right to marry men of their own community.
As Harijan leader Sakharam Devkaran Patel, who headed a government committee to study the problem, explains: “Since selling the body is considered neither derogatory nor detestable, the khilawadis command respect and affection in the family and the community.” The custom is so deeply entrenched that even comparatively educated and well – off families think nothing of sending their eldest daughter into the trade. Poverty, of course, even leads to younger sisters joining it.
It is not surprising that the birth of a girl is considered auspicious. Most parents introduce their daughters to prostitution as soon as they attain puberty, at the age of 13 or 14. The girl’s initiation is also celebrated as a social event in the community.
There is much drinking and revelry, with the girl’s first customer footing the bill. The fee depends on the age and looks of the girl. “I was paid Rs 2,000,” recalls Rekha, 25.
Truck driver customers
After they have been initiated, the khilawadis usually depend on stray customers to make a living. And to ensure a regular clientele, the community lives either in hamlets near larger villages, or by the side of highways, where truck drivers halt. On the Neemuch-Ratlam highway, trucks can be seen parked in front of their houses any hour of the day. Some of the better – looking women have rich patrons who provide them monthly allowances.
Their income range is wide, varying from Rs 5 to Rs 75 per day. Says Nisha, 20, who has been in the profession tor six years.” “Normally I charge Rs 10. But sometimes a rich customer stays for days, drinking liquor and eating meat. They bring costly gifts.” But generally, the khilawadis are relatively poor. An official survey put their average income at Rs 200 per month.
Despite the fact that the khilawadis are protected by a familial environment, their trade continues to be associated with its attendant social evils. Both men and women of the community are known to be fond of liquor. Many of the youth are notorious criminals, indulging in theft of standing crops or acting as conduits for other underworld criminals.
Poverty most often forces the women into the flesh trade. But some well-off families also push their daughters into it.
Says the town inspector of Mandsaur: “We keep a close watch on the Banchchara villages as they are known to be retreats of criminals. They go there to relax after they have committed an offence.”
Once a notified criminal tribe, the Banchcharas – who speak a mixture of Gujarati. Rajasthani and Malvi – are now considered Harijans in Madhya Pradesh. But unlike other Harijan communities, they are not considered untouchables and don’t suffer from the same social stigmas.
Still, their origins, or how they adopted their peculiar custom, remain unknown. One theory maintains that they were nomads in Rajasthan who were brought to Mandsaur district by the British to entertain the garrison established at Neemuch.
But according to a local teacher, Dr Puran Sehgal, who has studied the community, the Banchcharas – predominantly a community of farm labourers and peasants – took to the profession to cater to their feudal masters in the countryside.
Whatever its origins, the custom operates within strictly enforced social codes. No Banchchara youth can sleep with a khilawadi and a breach can lead to severe punishment – including social excommunication – by the panchayat. Similarly, a khilawadi forfeits for ever the right to marry a youth of her community, though she can marry one from outside with the permission of the panchayat.
Married women cannot indulge in prostitution under any circumstances, and must always remain faithful to their husbands. “A woman accused of adultery is asked to put her hand in boiling oil to prove her chastity,” says Sehgal.
The practice of prostitution has also had little adverse effect on the status of women in the community, as is evident from the high rates of bride price. A Banchchara youth has to pay up to Rs 25,000 to his prospective in – laws. Last year, Roopchand Arya of Kadhi village in Mandsaur district, who is a B.A. final year student, paid Rs 20,000 as bride price. And as Arya says: “Many prostitutes spend their lifetime’s earnings to see their sons get married.”
In fact, the khilawadis abhor the idea of remaining childless. “Who will look after me once my youth is gone?” asks Radha, 20, fondling her four-year-oldson, Ashok. She would like her son to receive proper education and get a government job that would support them both.
The birth of a girl is considered auspicious and they are often preferred to boys. This is partly because the bride price is normally high.
Most of the children who are born out of wedlock are known by their mothers’ names. In keeping with the khilawadi custom of making a livelihood, girls are often preferred to boys. As a local businessman Vishnu Buiragi, who has helped in the rehabilitation of the khilawadis, says: “Many pregnant Banchchara women pray that they be blessed with a beautiful daughter whom they can then send into prostitution.”
It is evident that poverty is the primary reason that forces the Banchchara women to turn into prostitutes. As Shanti, 18, who is a khilawadi along with her two sisters, says: “What else could we do? Our father, a farm worker, is dead and our two brothers are very young.” Others enter the profession out of an ingrained sense of duty towards their parents. Says Suneeta, 30, who has been a prostitute for 14 years: “How can I refuse to support my parents? I am the eldest daughter and this is the tradition.”
But again there are also the comparatively better-off families which have not discontinued the practice even though they could afford to do so. For instance, two daughters of the deputy sarpanch of Parwalia are engaged in prostitution. And Rekha has been a khilawadi for many years, though her father owns 30 bighas of land, one – third of it irrigated, and a big house in Neelkanthpura village in Mandsaur district.
Caught in a society that sanctions their sexual exploitation, at least some of the khilawadis are disgusted with their way of life. Says Rekha: “This is worse than hell. Do you call it life? My heart weeps when I’ve to sleep with strange people.” Even the choice to marry outside her community remains a distant dream. “Who will marry me now?” she laments.
Local hostel for rehabilitation
Her cousin, Kamla, 15, also hates her sordid way of life: “Often, I end up having to entertain drunks.” Many of them yearn to give it up, but have no alternative means of livelihood. For instance, Chanda, 20, says she will give up her trade the day “the Government gives me a piece of land for farming”.
Some of the khilawadis have, in fact, tried to break away from the profession, often with disastrous consequences. There is stiff opposition to their attempts to change their way of life, most often by the community elders. Two nurses in Mandsaur district, who had been declared as khilawadis, had refused to sell their bodies. “They had to struggle very hard against the pressure from the community,” says Bairagi.
But with the spread of education – about 9 per cent of the Banchcharas are now literate – there has been some awakening among the youth to change the lot of the khilawadis. Says Roopchand Arya: “I have been trying my best to reform them, but the elders are the main block.”
If the state Government’s attempts to uplift the community have been half-hearted, the response too has been lukewarm.
Arya himself has been able to obtain a college education through a government scholarship, and his two younger sisters go to school. One of them, Usha, a student of class 10 at Manasa girls school, says with confidence: “No, I don’t face any discrimination in the school.”
The state Government, on its part, has done precious little for the upliftment of the community despite an assembly resolution made five years ago to eradicate the demeaning practice. To date, it has opened two residential schools and a couple of sewing centres in an attempt to rehabilitate the women. Besides, anyone who marries a Banchchara girl is also given a cash award by the Government.
The official attempts, however, have turned out to be half-hearted and the response is lukewarm. The two sewing centres at Paheda and Bararia villages have only 30 trainees on their roles, and each of the women is given a stipend of Rs 115 per month. Despite the fact that boarding and lodging is free, few Banchcharas have allowed their girls to attend the school.
Similarly, the sewing centre has only managed to train 12 women as tailors. Even worse, there are reports that the hostel inmates of the sewing centres still indulge in prostitution. In Bararia village, for instance, half of the one dozen girls residing in the boarding house sneak out at night.
Says a villager: “They return to their houses In the evening after the training is over and entertain customers.” Sometimes clients even come to the hostels looking for girls. Said a government official at Manasa: “They seem to think that the stipend money given by the Government is their extra income.”
In the face of indifferent attempts to rehabilitate them, the “fallen” Banchchara women remain trapped in their present circumstances. The enduring reality is that the Government and their own community seem determined to leave them to their tragic fate.
यहां मां के सामने बेटी बनाती हैं मर्द से रिलेशन, अब एेसे हो रहा बदलाव
नीमच. एमपी में एक समुदाय ऐसा है जहां खुलेआम जिस्मफरोशी का धंधा होता है। हाइवे पर इस समुदाय की लड़कियां संज संवर कर खड़ी हो जाती हैं और 200 रुपए में अपना जिस्म बेचती हैं। कई बार तो मां ही अपनी बेटी के लिए ग्राहक ढूंढ़ती हैं और उनके सामने ही बेटियां गैर मर्द से रिलेशन बनाती हैं। इस माहौल को बदलने के लिए अब IPS पहल कर रहे हैं। क्या है मामला…
-मध्य प्रदेश का एक हिस्सा ऐसा भी है, जहां एक समुदाय विशेष की बेटियां जिस्मफरोशी के लिए मजबूर हैं।
-यहां बेटियों को खुद माता-पिता जिस्मफरोशी के धंधे में धकेल देते हैं।i
-दरअसल, राजस्थान से सटे सीमावर्ती जिलों में स्थित बांछड़ा समुदाय के डेरों पर वेश्यावृत्ति का खुला खेल चलता है।
-नीमच, मंदसौर और रतलाम जिले के 65 गांवों में जिस्मफरोशी के ऐसे 250 अड्डे हैं। देश का यह इलाका जिस्मफरोशी के लिए बदनाम है।
-यहां मां और पिता के सामने बेटी अलग-अलग मर्दों के साथ रिश्ते बनाती है। कई बार तो खुद मां-बाप अपनी बेटी के लिए पार्टनर खोजते हैं।
-बांछड़ा समाज के डेरों की कई लड़कियां हैं जो देह व्यापार के इस दलदल से बाहर आना चाहती हैं लेकिन दहशत के कारण को घुट-घुट कर जीने को मजबूर हैं।
-सरकारों ने सदियों से जिस्मफरोशी से जुड़े इस समाज को इस दलदल से बाहर निकालने के लिए योजनाएं तो कई बनाईं, लेकिन नतीजा सिफर ही रहा है।
समाज के युवा भी काफी जुड़ रहे हैं
-ऐसे में अब बांछड़ा समुदाय पर लगे इस कलंक को मिटाने और समाज की युवक-युवतियों को नयी राह दिखाने के लिए नीमच एसपी तुषारकांत विद्यार्थी ने पहल की है।
-किसान आंदोलन के बाद हुए फेरबदल में नीमच एसपी के रूप में पदस्थ हुए तुषारकांत विद्यार्थी ने पहले बांछड़ा समुदाय की समस्या को जाना।
-अब वह स्वयंसेवी संगठनों की मदद से बांछड़ा बस्तियों का माहौल बदलने की कवायद कर रहे हैं।
-युवाओं को समाज की मुख्यधारा से जोड़ने को लेकर वह प्रशिक्षिण शिविर का आयोजन कर रहे है।
-पुलिस के इन शिविरों में बाछड़ा समाज के युवा भी काफी जुड़ रहे हैं।
युवक-युवतियों को प्रतियोगी परीक्षाओं के लिए तैयार
-एसपी खुद बांछड़ा समुदाय की बस्तियों में जाकर युवक-युवतियों को पढ़ाने के साथ उन्हें किताबें भी उपलब्ध करा रहे है।
-वहीं, बांछड़ा समुदाय के लोगों को बच्चों को पढ़ाने और उन्हें रोजगार से जोड़ने के लिए एसपी जागरुकता अभियान चलाए हुए है।
-एसपी का कहना है कि नीमच जिले में बांछड़ा समुदाय के युवक-युवतियां गलत कार्यों में लिप्त है जिन्हें समाज की मुख्यधारा से जोड़ने के लिए पहल की जा रही है।
-समाज के 10वीं और 12वीं पास पास युवक-युवतियों को प्रतियोगी परीक्षाओं के लिए तैयार करने के लिए प्रशिक्षण शिविर लगा कर उन्हें पढ़ाया जा रहा है।
दहेज में 15 लाख रुपए देना अनिवार्य है
-भारतीय समाज में आज भी बेटी को बोझ समझा जाता हो, लेकिन बांछड़ा समुदाय में बेटी पैदा होने पर जश्न मनाया जाता है।
-बेटी के जन्म की खूब धूम होती है, क्योंकि ये बेटी बड़ी होकर कमाई का जरिया बनती है।
-इस समुदाय की लड़कियां जिस्मफरोशी करती हैं तो लड़के चोरी करने में माहिर होते हैं। इन्हें वे अपनी परंपरा का हिस्सा मानते हैं।
-इस समुदाय में यदि कोई लड़का शादी करना चाहे तो उसे दहेज में 15 लाख रुपए देना अनिवार्य है।
-इस वजह से बांछड़ा समुदाय के अधिकांश लड़के कुंवारे ही रह जाते है।
-काले सोने यानि अफीम के लिए बदनाम इस अंचल में दिन की बजाए रात ज्यादा गुलजार होती है।
-रतलाम, नीमच और मंदसौर से गुजरने वाले हाईवे पर बांछड़ा समुदाय की लड़कियां खुलेआम देह व्यापार करती हैं।
-बांछड़ा समुदाय की उत्पत्ति कहां से हुई, यह कुछ साफ नहीं है। माना जाता है कि करीब 150 साल पहले अंग्रेज इन्हें नीमच में तैनात अपने सिपाहियों की वासना पूर्ति के लिए लाए थे। इसके बाद ये नीमच के अलावा रतलाम और मंदसौर में भी फैलते गए।