Challenges to curbing community-based prostitution

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Challenges to curbing community-based prostitution

Saturday, 11 November 2023 | Veerendra Mishra/ Sumit Kaushik

To bring about a radical change, the goal should be to break the cycle of exploitation through knowledge, skill, and building an entrepreneurial mindset

Community-based sexual exploitation of communities like Bedia and Bachara and other de-notified tribes historically started as a survival and protection mechanism to ward off the atrocities of landlords and the powerful—a cost paid by a nomadic tribe for stability. The compulsive survival instinct became a tradition, and the exploitation became normalised over the years. There are more than 100,000 Bedia and Bachra people put together, spread over four states in India. In Madhya Pradesh, the Bedia community is predominantly located in 12 districts of three regions: Chambal, Malwa, and Bundelkhand, whereas the Bachara community is in the Malwa region. In 1913, during British rule in India, the Bedia and Bachara communities were registered as criminal tribes under the Criminal Tribes Act 1871, which was denotified in 1952 and then recognised as scheduled castes. They are in double jeopardy—they have to carry the stigma of being a community engaged in prostitution and being at the lowest rung of the caste hierarchy. The children are barely encouraged to seek education. The boys—most of them illiterate and having a proclivity towards social vices—prefer to stay financially dependent on the earnings of the prostituted girls in the family. A conservative estimate projects that about 70% of families are still deriving income from prostitution.

Currently, in Madhya Pradesh, Samvedna has already been working extensively in the 60 villages of six districts (Bhopal, Rajgarh, Raisen, Vidisha, Sagar, and Guna) on the issue of human trafficking and is currently working specifically on community-based sexual exploitation. Its focus is on the Bedia community, which is into inter-generational prostitution. The tradition falls under the category of community-based sexual exploitation, as children are customarily prostituted at a young age. Development practitioners at Samvedna realised that while working with the community, it is imperative to maintain a dual focus—working with survivors of community-based sexual exploitation for their rehabilitation and reintegration, as well as working with potential victims with a priority on prevention through direct intervention by facilitating and providing access to education and alternate economic opportunities. Community development is possible only by challenging and dismantling an exploitative mindset and creating an enabling environment with access to opportunities and options. The uniqueness and peculiarity of the community require comprehensive intervention and a holistic approach to ensure desired change. The socio-cultural, economic, and political dynamics of the community are so entrenched through generations that working with one section of the community will not yield results. Due to socio-cultural sanctions for sexual exploitation, any effort to bring about change is viewed as a challenge to their tradition and an intrusion into their private domain.

While the focus should be on promoting formal education as a vehicle of change to restore the dignity and respect of the children and the community at large, the goal should be to break the cycle of exploitation through knowledge, skill, and attitude building. However, no one size fits all, and social entrepreneurship is another solution to lessen intergenerational prostitution among the Bedia and Bachara communities. Social entrepreneurs don’t just build organisations; they change systems. We tend to think of charities and governments when we think about ending human trafficking. But what do we think of businesses? We need to focus on planning and utilising business strategies and ideas and put them to work fighting slavery.

Social entrepreneurs have the gifts to be the conveners, the connectors, and the changemakers who may work on a tri-sector level and work alongside corporations, governments, and civil society to assist in innovative approaches and tactics. Bedia and Bachara communities need to be ASSESED (Aware, Skilled, Self-employed, Empowered, Supportive, Educated, and Dignified). They should be given the necessary information, skillsets and support based on their expertise and interests, so they are capable and encouraged enough to create their small business models, now is the time for the anti-trafficking movement to push further ahead in innovation to force true systemic transformation. 

If we bring about a revolution to create a new wave of entrepreneurs who are blazing a trail in anti-trafficking innovations, social enterprises can aid survivors on the path to socioeconomic independence. Single-minded work facilitation towards promoting the cause of the prevention of human trafficking, raising awareness on the issue, and establishing dialogue on the significance of survivors’ roles in enacting social entrepreneurship, laws, and public policies on human trafficking is to be persuaded. 

(Veerendra Mishra is IPS from MP Cadre, H. Humphrey Fulbright Fellow, and a social impact consultant, Sumit Kaushik is a social impact consultant; views are personal)

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