Wadia women turn over a new leaf

In this village of sex workers, 8 girls were married and 12 more are engaged

March 12, 2012 01:15 am | Updated 02:43 am IST - AHMEDABAD:

A mass wedding underway in Wadia, Gujarat, on Sunday. The event was organized by a local social assistance group in an effort to prevent the girls from taking to prostitution, a traditionally common source of employment in the village. Photo: AP

A mass wedding underway in Wadia, Gujarat, on Sunday. The event was organized by a local social assistance group in an effort to prevent the girls from taking to prostitution, a traditionally common source of employment in the village. Photo: AP

It was a different kind of festival the Wadia village in north Gujarat celebrated on Sunday. For the first time, almost the entire village participated in a mass marriage celebration where eight girls were married and 12 more engaged.

Not only the marriage and engagements, the parents of at least 10 more girls of marriageable age have come forward and promised to marry off their daughters in the next six months or so. “The response was so overwhelming and encouraging that we are planning to organise yet another mass marriage programme in the next few months, said Mittal Patel, the co-ordinator of the Vicharti Samudaya Samarpan Manch, the voluntary organisation working for the welfare of the nomadic tribes.

Known as “village of sex workers,” Wadia, the small village in Tharad taluka in the border district of Banaskantha in north Gujarat close to Rajasthan border, is all set to change the course of its life. In a village where most of the grown-up women were known for taking to prostitution to feed themselves and their male family members depended on them, the young girls are refusing to follow the traditional business and settle in normal life by marrying and rearing a family.

The Manch had been working hard among the members of the Saraniya community, a nomadic tribe migrated to Gujarat from Rajasthan during the Moghul period, for the last five years or so to bring normalcy in their lives and help erase the village's image of prostitution. Initially the organisation had to face a lot of resistance from the “pimps” in Wadia, Palanpur, the district headquarter of Banaskantha, and other places who were worried that it would mean an end to their income from the flesh trade. “But the resistance has started diminishing now and contrary to our apprehensions during the Sunday's mass marriage, the situation remained peaceful and instead almost the entire village participated in the ceremony,” Ms. Patel said.

When the Manch planned about the mass marriage, 12 girls had agreed to participate in the ceremony, but three of them later developed cold feet for one reason or the other while the marriage of one girl was postponed because the groom, Chandra, is appearing for higher secondary examinations. “Chandra is the first boy from the entire Saraniya community and from Wadia village to go up to 12 standard and we did not want to disturb him in the all-important examinations, so we decided to postpone his marriage till the examinations are over,” Ms. Patel said.

It was the first time a mass marriage was organised in the village and soon it turned to be a festival. “Not only today[Sunday], the villagers were singing and dancing in preparation of the marriage festival for the last two days and the entire village turned in an unprecedented festive mood on the occasion,” Ms. Patel said.

The police and the State authorities also did their bit. The Manch had registered a case with the Tharad police apprehending trouble from a section of the anti-social elements encouraging the flesh trade. Two mobile police vans were stationed at the village . “But there was not even a whisper of trouble,” Ms Patel said. The State government officials who visited the village on the occasion, also promised to arrange for borewells and creating various job opportunities in and around the village the lack of which so far was one of the principal reasons for the continuation of flesh trade since generations.

A dozen girls whose engagements were finalised on Sunday were of 12 to 17 years of age. Since they were not of marriageable age, the marriages could not be solemnized. “But we did not want the opportunity to slip off, so we at least arranged for the engagement ceremony so that the future commitment remained in tact,” she said.

“Efforts paid off”

But seeing the developments, the parents of 10 more girls came forward to get their daughters married. “It was most heartening, the people at least have started to realising the necessity to break away from the traditional trade and lead a normal social life. Our efforts have paid off” Ms. Patel said with satisfaction.

Saraniyas, who were experts in shinning and shaping swords, had left their native villages in Rajasthan with the army of Rana Pratap in his fight against the Moghul emperor, Akbar. But after his defeat, neither Rana Pratap nor the Saraniyas returned to Chittorgarh to prepare for the next round of battle. The Saraniyas later settled in Wadia village but with the loss of their traditional trade, they learnt to live only on the income of their womenfolk, experts in singing and dancing, who were forced to take to “entertaining” men to earn their and their families' livelihood.

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