(Flesh trading, a Tradition of Banchhada Tribes) There is a slogan “Good guys go to heaven and bad guys go to Pattaya” but not only to Pattaya, even to Neemuch – Mandsaur Highway in Madhya Pradesh.
Banchhada is a tribe in central India that is traditionally identified with prostitution and other crimes. They are listed as the scheduled caste for the purposes of Indian reservation system and were formerly classified as a criminal tribe in British Raj era. Banchhada tribes are located in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajastan. They have been identified by human rights observers as a group that uses prostitution as the source of revenue.
What is Ancient Banchhada tradtion?
According to Nari Mata, an ancient Banchhada tradtion, the eldest daughter must prostitute herself to provide earning for her family. Girls as young as 12 years are forced into a life of prostitution with no chance to get education or to escape. As they become women, they contract veneral disease and mother – child which further bonds them to the sex industry. When they give birth to a daughter, they already know that she will follow their footsteps. The tradition is so embedded in the culture that it is considered as normal, everyday business. It is a 5 century old form of cultural slavery that even alive today.
Leaving the mucky trade of prostitution is not easy but for the women from Banchhada tribe in Madhya Pradesh, prostitution is their fate. While passing along the Neemuch – Mansaur Highway in MP, one can see women sitting on charpoys, dressed in bright clothes, wearing a loud make up and hoping to get a client. Sometimes truck drivers and men from other villagers.
Birth of a girl auspicious as it means another breadwinner for the family
The flesh trade has a social sanction in Neemuch, Ratlam and Mandsaur districts of Madhya Pradesh. The members of the Banchhada community, Who operate family – based prostitution for livelihood, consider the birth of a girl auspicious as it means another breadwinnerfor the family. The fathers and brothers will end up acting as pimps, taking care of all the arrangements. The family house has a dedicated room for this purpose exclusively.
Banchhada tribes tradition is a social evil
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. But still Banchhada tribes remain the same.
Under the dim light of the 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. It is a scene characteristic of any happy family in the countryside.
How they operate?
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. A girl, eldest daughter in the family who practises the oldest profession in the world is known as khilawadi (one who plays). These girls do not live in brothels and consider themselves superior to the common prostitute.
Indeed, prostitution in the community is socially sanctioned. Khilawadis are highly respected and in joint families, their position is often more powerful than that of the male members.
“The Banchhada prostitutes suffer no social stigma. In some families their position is stronger than 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.
Most parents introduce their daughters to prostitution at the age of 12 or 13
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 12 or 13. The girls initiation is also celebrated as a social event in the community. After they have been initiated,thekhilawadis usually depend on stray customers to make living. To ensure a regular clientele the community lives either in hamlets near larger village or by the side of highways where truck drivers halt. On the Neemuch – Ratlam highway trucks can be seen parked infront of their house at any hour of the day. Some of the better looking – women have rich patrons who provide them monthly allowances.
Prostitution has led to the menace of human trafficking in the community. In order to improve the financial condition of the family, Banchhada members buy girls from different parts of the state. They even indulge in buying new – born girl children from different areas. Once they come of age, they are thrown into prostitution. The rise in the number of women in the community is not only because of their birth but also because of rampant purchase of trafficked girl child.
Despite the fact that the khilawadis are protected by 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 youths 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”
Once a notified criminal tribe, the Banchhadas – who speak a mixture of Gujrati . Rajastani and Malvi – are now considered as the 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 how they adopted their peculiar custom, remain unknown. One theory maintains that they were nomads in Rajastan who were brought to Mandsaurdistrict by British to entertain the garrison established at Neemuch.
According to Neemuch Collector Jitendra Singh Raje, a survey of girls between 11 and 18 yrs of age will be carried out to provide them admission in the government schools while the Principals will be given responsibility to provide them job-oriented skills.Besides, some girls will also be given admission in private schools and it will be ensured that the students will not face any discrimination.
District administration has decided to appoint a nodal officer. Plans are being chalked out to help them get rid of the generations-old bad practices.To ensure proper implementations of the plans to uplifting people of the community and earn respectful livelihood.
WRITER IS ASSISTANT PROFESSOR AND TRIBAL RESEARCHER AT DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH, P.K.R ARTS COLLEGE FOR WOMEN, ERODE DT.,TAMILNADU
Assistant Professor and Tribal Researcher
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