Wedding bells ring in Gujarat’s ‘village of prostitutes’

Gugun and Babi from Wadia village in Banaskantha district stoically sit through their engagement. For Gugun (12), who belongs to the Saraniya community, this early engagement is perhaps the only way she can escape the so-called tradition of prostitution that has been continuing in her community since ages.

Sunday morning saw winds of change in the 'village of prostitutes' as 12 girls, aged between 12 and 16, got engaged, and eight others, above 18 years, tied the knot in a mass marriage at a place where men have been known to solicit 'customers' for their wives and daughters.

Historically, the community used to sharpen arms such as shields and swords in the army of Maharana Pratap of Mewar. Loss in war against the Mughals and the ruler's death left the Saraniyas bereft of their traditional vocation. Staring at a dismal economic future, four of their women turned to prostitution which reportedly continues even today as a tradition, albeit under the wraps.

"The mass wedding is an important step to ensure that the community's women get a secure future," said Mittal Patel, coordinator of Vicharta Samuday Samarthan Manch, instrumental in conducting the mass marriage.

The sleepy hamlet wore a festive look with brides and grooms posing for photographs, and in the background there were fields laden with cultivated castor and jeera crops. "It's an eyewash. The real story unfolds in the night when men from this village solicit customers on the highway and girls as young as 14 years of age become part of a vicious circle in the name of tradition," said Parmar Devshibhai Bhikhabhai, one of the committee members of Vadgamda Group Gram Panchayat, and resident of a nearby village.

However, as he waited for his turn to get engaged, Rahul Bachubhai (16) claimed: "We don't have prostitution in our village now. These are stories that have given our village a bad name. I work in the fields and don't see any reason why my future wife will have to earn a livelihood through such means."

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