Every year, from the drought-hit districts of Rajasthan, news comes to the wires. It is usually about the number of deaths for the day, gross images of dead humans and animals or predictions for the continuing drought, and sometimes the news is about a small village, Adharpura, where the news is of another kind of squalor.
Most women from the state travel outside the conventional boundaries they remain shackled in, searching for water. But women from this village in the Banikantha district travel with their husbands in search for sex. Not for pleasure, but for money. Every year, when the scorching sun divests them of water for months on end, the men turn to pimping rather than toil in the wooden fields. Sometimes the consequences are fatal.
Many families in this village live off the money that their daughters, daughters-in-law, sisters and mothers bring in from prostitution. While the rest of the state languishes in famine, there is convivial celebration in this village, which has the buying power. Strangely, they return to tilling their meager fields when the rains finally pay a visit. And till the next year's drought, they are respectable farmers ' who traditionally worship mother Goddess, and women in the household.
Men ' in traditionally patriarchal societies in India could either abhor women in the household as 'useless' or respect and love them as the weaker sex. But men from the village of 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 aging mothers' rooms ' and whilst customers are serviced, the men distil illicit liquor for the clients who come from all over the state.
I have visited them once ' to file a report on the crime that takes place in the village during the blazing summer. And the sight was nauseating to say the least. I saw with my own eyes what I have described above, I spoke to the women who seemed nonchalant about it ' some even made jokes about the sexual pleasures they might not have been introduced to was it not for summer prostitution. And the men are another matter altogether ' how could a person offer the body of his own mother/daughter/sister or wife to another man for a small sum of money? How do they suffer the ignominy?
The women joked about it, but there was one who had just been introduced to the trade the night before I met up with her. She had a traumatic experience. She was a virgin, 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 sixteen year old girl was being violated, and 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 ' and every time one hears of it, my anger against the male species rises.
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 to the stores. 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.
Recently, health workers conducted HIV tests on the women and men of that village. About seventy percent of them tested positive for AIDS and another twenty had some or the other sexually transmitted disease.
With the lack of awareness about AIDS in states like Rajasthan, this disease will spread further beyond the boundaries of the village.
Sometimes I feel its just retribution for the men ' the perpetrators of the crime, and the women ' the participants. But how about the countless women in other parts of the state who had no idea that their husbands had sex with prostitutes infected with the virus? And they will have to suffer the consequence of their partners' deeds!
This problem does not have an easy solution. It needs people like you and me to contribute, start an awareness drive, a campaign to educate those who can be, and punish those who refuse to be educated. The government of India will listen, if we make the effort.