BHARATPUR Jul 9: Khakranagla village is only about 200 km from Delhi. Yet, the village is a microcosm of rural India ramshackle houses, non-functional primary school and no healthcare facilities.
Electricity arrived here just two years ago. But what makes it different is that it s inhabited by a number of families of the Bedia caste who have, for long, been identified with prostitution.
Traditionally, Bedias and Nats were dancers in Rajasthan and MP. Being entertainers, it was customary for the women and girls to perform for feudal lords.
When the zamindari system was abolished, they lost their patrons. Over time, a number of Bedia women were compelled to take up prostitution for economic reasons and the men lived off their earnings.
Adolescent girls are initiated into the family tradition , while their brothers become agents . They may practice locally, on highways or in big cities such as Delhi and Mumbai as bar girls or in brothels. Marriage is rare for the girls, but once married, they aren t permitted to take clients.
According to Prof K K Mukherjee, former head of department of social work, DU, There are 91 families in Khakranagla. Of these, 75 are of Nat, Bedia and Gujjar castes 46 of them engage in sex work.
Mukherjee heads an NGO that s trying to prevent young girls from taking up prostitution in eight villages in Bharatpur district.
In a 2004 study of sex workers in India, which he undertook on behalf of the Department of Women and Child Development, Mukherjee found that the number of Bedia sex workers in Delhi s red light area, G B Road, was increasing.
He attributes this to loss of livelihood, established networks and men s interest in continuance of the system because of easy availability of money.
Classified as a Scheduled Caste, Bedias may be deemed poor. But in Khakranagla, there are signs of a consumerist lifestyle coming up multi-storied houses, linoleum floors, young girls in capris and mobile phones.
However, more than the need for income, the community is worried about social ostracism. Villagers say they don t receive any benefits of the reservation policy.
Ravinder Kumar, an unemployed graduate, says, The moment they (employers) see the Bedia name, they set aside our job applications. Kumar says no person from the village has been able to get a job with the Rajasthan government. Bedia children are taunted and discriminated against in schools, he adds.
Kumar s brother, Om Prakash, a former panchayat samiti member, says, Ã¢â‚¬Å“on t give us money. Give us work. Give us our own leader. We don t have any political representative to speak for us. He asks, Why are we being stigmatised when there are other castes doing the same work?
They claim that mindsets are changing some girls in the village have got married, while some 80 young girls from nearby villages study at a residential school run by Mukherjee s NGO in Roopvas village. There are parents too who want daughters sheltered from their lifestyle.
But gaining social acceptance is another battle altogether.