Feb 9, 2009

A Midsummer Night's Horror

"Man endures pain as an undeserved punishment; Woman accepts it as a natural heritage."

Every year, the drought-hit districts of Rajasthan speak about the number of deaths for the day, of bodies and carcasses strewn all over, of predictions for the continuing drought. Sometimes, the state speaks about a small village, Adharpura in the Banikantha district, where the news is of another kind of squalor.

Women from Rajasthan have from time immemorial overstepped their conventional boundaries, travelling far and wide in search for water. But women from Adharpura travel far and wide with their husbands in search for sex. Not for pleasure, but for money. Sometimes with fatal consequences. Fatal for the women, that is.

Every year, when the scorching sun divests them of water for months on end, the men turn to pimping rather than toiling in their parched fields. Many families live off the money that the women of their home - daughters, sisters, wives, mothers - bring in from prostitution. While the rest of the state languishes in famine, there is convivial celebration in this village which satiates all kinds of hunger - carnal, too. Then, without as much as batting an eyelid, the men return to tilling their fields once the rains begin to fall, and the women are shackled to their four walls. Till the next year’s drought, they are respectable people - who traditionally worship the Goddess.

Men in traditionally patriarchal societies in India either abhor women in the household as 'useless', or respect and love them as the 'weaker sex'. But men from Adharpura have little qualms about treating the women as Goddesses when the rains abound, and as prostitutes during drought. Men are seen leading 'clients' into their wives’, daughters’, sisters’ and sometimes their ageing mothers’ rooms - and whilst customers are serviced, the men distil illicit liquor for their guests who come from all over the state.

To read about this the first time was nauseating to say the least. Worse, I also discovered that the women are nonchalant about it; they joke about the sexual pleasures they might not have known if not for their summer prostitution. The men are another matter altogether. How could a person offer the body of his own mother/ daughter/ sister/ wife to another man for a sum of money? How do they suffer the ignominy?

A virgin, newly introduced to the trade, relates her traumatic experience. She was afraid; her father forced her into the room after beating her up, and her 'customer' raped her five times during the night. Her family kept vigil outside the room where the 16-year-old was violated; they would wake up periodically through the night when they heard her repeated screams, and then go off to sleep again. Early morning, after her customer’s departure, her father came into the room and had sex with her!

One has heard about incest, but this is something else entirely, for it combines incest with commercial prostitution. And it is all perpetrated by the family. The residents of Adharpura are mostly descendants of nomad migrants from Rajasthan who came here following one of the worst droughts two centuries ago. Faced with an uncertain and destitute future, some women clandestinely took to prostitution. The landlords were willing patrons. Thanks to the 'success' of these women, virtually every house in the area turned into a brothel overnight.

There have been countless programs over the years to eliminate prostitution from the area. The police has kept a vigil to deter 'customers' from coming. Welfare schemes have been launched with loans and subsidies to the villagers to start businesses. But each year, the residents of the village return to this profession, whether or not they have enough to eat and enough to wear.

Health workers conduct HIV tests on the women and men of the village. About 70% of them have tested positive for AIDS and another 20% suffered from some kind of sexually transmitted disease. With the lack of awareness about AIDS in Rajasthan, this disease will spread further beyond the boundaries of the village.

One may, in their anger and disbelief, feel it is just retribution for the perpetrators of the crime, and the participants. But how about the countless women in other parts of the state who had no idea that their husbands were 'clients' and are now infected? How about the children of women who participate in this seasonal activity? These innocent lives would be doomed but for the actins of others and no fault of theirs!

This problem does not have an easy solution. It needs people like you and me to contribute, start an awareness drive, organise campaigns to educate those who can be, and punish those who refuse to change. The government will listen, but only if we make the effort first.

Report by: Ms Deepika Singh


Indian Home Maker said...

Shocking. I just can't get over the bit about incest.

I had read about how some pedophiles exchange daughters and grand daughters in marriage...but this is ghastly.

But I think what two consenting adults do with their lives is their business. (Only if they are consenting adults).

Surbhi said...

I feel differently. It is not about two consenting adults. It is about having taught the women to consent. The women in this village have it so ingrained in their mind that they automatically consent to this part-time prostitution. Others are forced into it (like that virgin) and gradually accept it as their 'fate' or 'destiny' or even 'duty', probably. None of them is doing it of her own accord.
Again, I'm just guessing all this, so you might be correct. Just that it didn't seem like willing consent to me.
If a woman offers herself willingly, without having been told or asked by anyone, then I'm no one to scream or shout - its her life and her body. I totally agree with you there.