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Prostitution and Marriage

Is the place that is a “village of prostitutes” its identity or its infamy? In what appears to be a hope-filled initiative, there is an element of sadness. It is apparently the first time since India's independence in 1947 that eight daughters of sex workers from Wadia, a village in Gujarat, got married.

Here is what happened:

Wadia was shunned for ages as it was known as a village of prostitutes. But, Sunday was different. Grooms in colourful turbans strutted into the venue brandishing swords. They came in various vehicles, including bikes, autorickshaws and trucks.
I have a problem with the publicising of the event. A minister and the district collector were present. I know of and have met sex workers in the filthiest red-light areas in the congested lanes of Mumbai, and am aware that quite a few of them have got married. They strive to keep their children away, or at least ensure that they get some education. The girls are not always safe, but there are voluntary agencies that attempt to minimise their getting co-opted into the profession.

Many of the children think that a favourite or regular client is their father; however, the mothers fear for the budding bodies and how the ‘father’ might well turn his attention to the young girl sooner rather than later. Such marriages have to be seen holistically: What prompts the customer? Is it altruism or the possibility of turning into a pimp? (Incidentally, they too become prospective grooms and might use the girl’s past to ensure her future.)

Among the 3000 people who witnessed the wedding in the village, some would be clients. The grooms came from elsewhere – what were they brandishing swords for? It can be reasonably assumed that these men would not be from a higher caste or economic status, therefore even though tradition might demand such symbolic display of valour – an exceedingly sexist idea under ‘normal’ circumstances too – it sends out the wrong message. It also draws attention to these people who could be taken aside by some guests and given a sort of tittering lowdown on the performance possibilities of their new brides. The jealousy quotient of the male has been subsumed into a shareholding stake, to put it bluntly.

There will be some young women who can lead regular lives once they move out of the village, but it will only be possible if they hide their identity. They will be completely dependent on the man. What if things do not work out between them? What if he pushes her into the profession and lives off her earnings? Most are brought up in the brothels and are not trained in the role expected of home-makers. To suddenly want them to transform into cooking and cleaning machines would put a good deal of pressure on them. Also, I dread to think about what could happen if the woman gets pregnant early. The question dangling over her head might well be: Whose child is it?

My scepticism is not unfounded. The report further states:

Besides the wedding, 12 minor girls were also engaged. “If a woman gets married or engaged in Wadia, she is not forced into prostitution by villagers. We have been able to protect these girls from flesh trade,” said Raju Param of Vicharti Jaati Samuday Samarthan Manch, which is spearheading reforms in Wadia.

It is astonishing that 64 years since independence no government has intervened, no NGOs have been successful in altering the perception and the reality although it is a known place. It is not about scattered sex workers who cannot be traced and rehabilitated. I do not have a moral position regarding prostitution; it is the herding of them, their exploitation and the fact that they get tainted while the men who patronise them remain invisible and can lead respectable lives in the same village that is of concern.

How can the children be forced into the profession right under the eyes of what are endearingly termed “village elders”? Child marriage is illegal, so the minors have got engaged. This rules out any consent. Again, this is common in conservative societies (how interesting that they have to mimic such conservatism), but what happens during the period until marriage? They are ‘taken’ in a different context, yet there could be taunts, their mothers’ histories will be revisited, if not their present. Have all the mothers stopped their work?

Once the children grow up, what if the boy rejects his fiancée? And dreadful as the thought is, what if the girl watching her mother’s fading allure decides to replace her and be the provider?

None of these questions is speculation. I have seen people in similar situations from the community of sex workers. That is the reason I hope, but with trepidation.
(c) Farzana Versey