Highway sex workers in central India

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Highway sex workers in central India

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While most traditions are the keystone of communities through the world, authorities from Mandsaor, in the Malwa region and district of Madhya Pradesh, are striving to remove one tradition that violates human rights and affects thousands of girls, who from an early age are forced to accept prostitution as their religious and social duty.

The Banchhara community live in villages situated along the National Highway in Madhya Pradesh (Central India). Among the Banchhara community there is a custom to 'dedicate' their eldest daughter to prostitution. Young girls are initiated into prostitution by the community in rural Madhya Pradesh, where male members of the community live off the earnings of their daughters and sisters. According to the Banchhara custom, once the girl becomes 12 years of age, she makes a declaration that she is ready to become a prostitute. This is made at a well-organised function attended by her mother, sisters and female relatives.

Banchhara women are divided in two groups following a 'division of labor': women allowed to marry are called Bhattawadi and the women reserved for prostitution are known as Khelawadi. Bhattawadi women follow this custom with their daughters so the custom perpetuates.

And the origin of this practice a legend? Well, a popular legend -unattributed- says that a Rajput king of Mewar in Rajasthan abducted a beautiful girl belonging to the Kanjar tribe. When her community demanded her release, the king refused. After the girl became pregnant, she was sent back to her community. But her community refused to take her back and the girl migrated to another district where she gave birth to a girl. It is said that she initiated the king's daughter into the flesh trade to exact revenge for her humiliation'. It is also believed that since neither the king nor her community accepted her, the mother and daughter began to be called Banchharas or 'people who had no roots'. (EPA)

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