I have been reading up about India for the past few weeks, especially on the topics of child abductions, human sex trafficking and rapes that are reported to be happening at a terrifying in the whole nation. I was deeply disturbed and disgusted by everything I have read, but at the same time, made me realized how fortunate I am. Among so many I have read and learn, I chanced upon an article that had interested me and led me to further research about the topic. What I am about to write are purely information and details I have gathered and complied from many different sources and also my personal opinions on the various issues. Of course, I will be glad if any reader could provide and share more insights on what I have written.
Introduction: Prostitution as Tradition within the Bedia Caste
The Bedia caste, one of the lowest member in the India caste system, is an exception among the many castes in the male-dominated society. Against the traditions of the majority Indian communities, the Bedia viewed prostitution as a family business that is passed down from their ancestors for generations after generations. Daughters who are born to Bedia families are obliged to enter the sex trade once they have reached their puberty, with their fathers and brothers (the males) usually acting as the pimps. Unlike in other cultures and societies where the men are normally the sole breadwinner, the women are the one who are responsible for the subsistence of the whole family. The Bedia men, on the other hand, usually do not engage in any paid employment in any part of their life as it is their tradition to rely on the income derived from the women sex work.
Preference of Babies Girls to Boys
Unlike the traditional Indian communities which generally celebrate the birth of sons, Bedia community prefer the birth of daughters more as girls are seen as a potential source of income for the family. Often, young girls in the Bedia community are taught their future profession by their mothers even before they reached puberty. Oxytocin injection, or in some case, known as the love hormone, is said to be commonly used in the Bedia community to help speed up the maturity in young girls, making them desire for love and sex and also look like a woman.
In India, similar to many traditional Asian cultures, virginity of a girl is still highly valued where men believe that having sex with a virgin will help to purify and cleanse their soul. Thus, most of them are usually willing to pay a premium in order to 'break' a virgin.
However, different from many other castes in India where thousands of young girls are raped and sold into sex slavery, a Bedia girl can only enter the sex trade after she has her first period. The virginity of the young girl will then be auctioned where the highest bidder will get to visit her as many times as he wants in the next few days or weeks. After her first client left, a lavish party will be held where guests from all nearby Bedia villages are invited. The young girl will also be adorned with new jewellery and clothes during the party. This is so because the Bedia community traditionally believe that keeping the money from the auction sale is inauspicious. Usually, at the party, alcohol is served and a goat is slaughtered to celebrate this happy "event''.
Besides the party, a ceremony called "nanthi utarna" which literally means "taking off the nose ring" is held to signify the girl is ready to enter the sex trade.
Bedia women rarely get married. Bedia women who got married are not permitted to stay in the sex trade. This would mean that the family will lose a source of their income. For years after years, the Bedia community is being treated as an outcast which makes them incapable to secure any paid jobs anywhere in India.
The Bedia men, however, do get married. The norm within the Bedia community is to pay a large bride price to marry someone from outside the community. The women who are married to Bedia men are exempted from the sex trade. However, their daughters who are born to them will have to continue the community's centuries old tradition.
Besides that, there is another 'rule' in the Bedia community. That is Bedia men are prohibited to marry or engage in any sexual activities with women from their own community.
Respectable within Own Community
Unlike other prostitutes who came from other caste systems, Bedia women are highly respected within their own community. They tend to enjoy a highly social status than women who are married in from other community. This is because they are the sole-breadwinner of their family. Without them, the Bedia community would not have survived.
I feel quite shameful for myself after learning about these. I feel shameful for whining about my life every now and then. I feel shameful for not knowing how to appreciate life. I feel shameful for me not knowing to feel contended with what I have. I saw how beautiful these Bedia women are. How they are sacrificing for their family. Although they may not be very willing and have complained about their fate, they still understand that they have to accept that this is life and the only way for survival. It is her love for her family that gave her strength and courage.
Many would have sarcastically say that they could have gone for a change. This is the 21st century! Initially, I have thought so too. However, I realized how difficult it is for the Bedia community in India to change. Here are a few reasons.
Frankly speaking, I believe no women in the world would like to be a prostitute when there are other alternative jobs available which could generate a decent amount of income for the household. However, in India, well-paying jobs are scarce. The income which the majority of the population is earning is barely enough to support themselves, not to mention to feed a whole family. Thus, prostitution became the only choice for the Bedia women where it is said that they could earn 4-10 times the amount which most unskilled earned in India.
Resistance to Changes
For centuries, Bedia people have been taught to live in this way for generations after generations. The Bedia men have long been accustomed to their "comfortable" living. They are used to hold no responsibility for anyone in their life since they traditionally do not get employed for any paid jobs. It will be difficult for them to give their ''comfortable'' up and work day and night to support an entire household.
The Bedia women, on the other hand, may not be willing to give up their highly respected social status in their community due to their financial capabilities.
Majority of the Bedia population are uneducated. This makes the women becomes easy targets for various crimes. I believe education will have the power to bring about significant changes to the traditional Indian communities.
Resignation to Fate
Many of the Bedia women have accepted and resigned to their fate. They have a deep misconception in their mind telling them that prostitution is what they are supposed to do. It is their destiny. Even those who do not have such misconception thought that it is too late for a change now. They believe that the damages are done and what is the point of changing now.
Although the Indian government and social workers has done many to educate and help the Bedia community, changes are still slow. It will probably takes them many more decades to change the traditions that exist within the society.
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