Thursday, January 24, 2013

The World of Prostitution, Nat Community, Nirvanavan Foundation, November 15, 2009


According to R.C. Swarankar in 'Traditional Female Sex Workers of Rajasthan, India: An Ethnographic Study of Nat Community.'

'A girl in a Nat family is distinguished from an early age. Initially during socialization, a girl who is to lead a married life is prepared for domestic chores. She is made to observe social restrictions like high Hindu castes, while a girl who is to be inducted into prostitution is trained by a retired FSW (patelan) about the dhandha and its secrets. Such a girl comes in closer contact with retired FSWs and eventually with the clients and their activities. The environment and `demonstration effect' mentally prepare these immature girls. These girls either willingly accept dhandha or are brainwashed by retired FSWs to accept the same for the economic and perceived traditional reasons.'

'Nath Utrai has been a prominent ritual in the Nat community and is celebrated as a custom. Nath is the nose ring, a Nat girl wears, which is removed symbolically by her first client. Amongst the clients, one who pays the highest amount performs the custom of Nath Utrai. The needy parents' or guardians' first priority is to procure the maximum possible amount for Nath Utrai. This amount usually ranges from Rs10,000 to Rs25,000 or even more depending upon the age and beauty of the girl. The client gets the right to initiate sex with the virgin girl, who is dressed up like a Hindu high-caste bride. He is considered her husband and is given priority over other clients on future visits. Once the deal has been struck, offerings are made to a deity, followed by a feast for kith, kin and the community. After such a ritual, a girl is inducted and the community socially permits her to pursue dhandha. Dhandha, therefore, has a community sanction, and the control of Nat caste Panchayat. The norms of dhandha, amongst others, include sex as an occupation, in which a minimum time essential for intercourse should be spent with clients, sentimental attachment with clients is forbidden and no Nat male can be the client of a Nat FSW. These are part of the induction process.'

'The Nat perceive a girl to be sexually mature soon after the onset of menstruation. Tradition, economic, and family structure are the factors responsible for induction of a girl child into prostitution. Clients' preference for sex with a girl child for sexual pleasure, and curing an STD via sex with a virgin are the other reasons child prostitution is practiced in the villages in this study.'

In my limited time with the foundation and in these villages, I have seen young girls sit alongside the highway with a male family member next to them for the sake of negotiation. Usually a mirror hangs in order to help maintain appearances. In the meantime the children are running around like children everywhere do, playing games and doing what children do universally.

While the foundation did its best to shield me from the horrors associated with even one moment of this life, the signs were all around me. As I walked around to find the best spots for photography I would almost always step on a remnant of a transaction... all the while the girls would laugh at my reaction, displaying their hardened lives.

One time we asked a young girl, what do you think of your future? Without blinking nor pausing, she went on to tell us that this has been chosen for her and she is to follow in her aunt's footsteps. Her voice was without color nor emotion, understandably so in such a cruel world.

The good people of Nirvanavan Foundation are doing their best to help expand the choices available. They have initiated schools in ten of these villages, and have helped make the transition from a lack of schooling to enrollment in government schools. In spite of incredible hardships they push forward and have my sincere admiration.