Bharatpur is located between Agra and Jaipur and is about
30 miles west of the Taj Mahal. A mile beyond the town -Suli is being displayed
as a commodity - sitting on a stool with heavy make-up in a bright pink sari to
attract attention of passing vehicles.
She belongs to the Bedia community that is well known for
its caste-based prostitution. The normal going rate for a night starts from Rs.100 rate,
however virgins are valued "commodities" and a pretty face can fetch
as much as Rs.40,000 ($1000). Suli is likely to fetch about $500 and is awaiting the highest bidder.
The normal tradition is to use the money from first time
sale for partying as keeping the money is considered inauspicious. Partying means an extravagant celebration to
include alcohol and sacrificing goats.
Suli not knowing what to expect is resigned to the fact that
she will go with whoever pays the maximum money for her. The poor child
probably does not even know what a sexual encounter may entail with an adult.
She will probably suffer in silence and accept this as her fate in obedience
to her seniors in the family.
The sale goes on in other families too in the hamlet of 60 odd huts that are located near the new highway. Another family with five girls have four prostitutes and are ready to sell the youngest 13 year old called Nita, a virgin for at least Rs.40,000. At present someone has offered Rs.25,000. They will wait and they are in no hurry. If a foreigner is lured then their dollars are more welcome as they generally are willing to pay a higher price for the unblemished flower.
Once they lose their virginity they will enter the profession full time and can take up as many as 20 to 30 clients a day for the next 20 to 25 years. If she produces some children especially daughters during the period, she will ensure that they enter the profession and support the family.
Poverty and no work makes these communities that are always struggling to enter the flesh trade. The community is well known supply line for many brothels in Delhi and Mumbai. The girls engage in prostitution with full family consent and
this tradition is also common among other similar lower nomadic groups such as the Nat, Sansi,
Kanjar, and Bachada that are found mostly in north, northwestern, and central
The tradition of prostitution is over 100 years old among the Bedias. Bhagu Das, a Bedia leader says that the tradition goes so far long back that it would be difficult to stop even if the community wanted it. "Even if we stop, the sex trade will not end. I may stop the practice but I cannot prevent others in my community from doing it. "After all who will feed them? We need employment opportunities." He further adds.
Anju Agrawal in her book entitled - 'Chaste Wives and Prostitute Sisters', gives an interesting account of how there is clear
discrimination between sisters and daughters who engage in prostitution and wives and daughters-in-law of the community who do not. The men of the community live on the earnings of their girls and only occasionally do odd jobs.
The construction of India's quadrilateral highways means good access and visibility to some of the remote areas and perhaps better business prospects for these poverty stricken communities. The current reported episode is on one such expanding highway. Many roadside brothels on these highways are flourishing and many more young girls
are on display. The long route truckers know where to stop for an easy bargain.
Rehabilitation programmes can only work if it can have long term objectives to sustain these communities and find them employment. The Govt. of India and the NGO's working in these areas have a long way to go
before they can make any difference in their 'traditional' art of living.