Marriage of young girls to bring change in Vadia

Ahmedabad: The mass-marriage of many young girls on March 11 is likely to usher in a social revolution in the lives of women of Sarania community in Vadia village of Banaskantha district, where prostitution is a "tradition" and a means to earn bread for their families.

Vadia is a small village in Tharad block of Banaskantha, about 210 km from here, comprising of people from Sarania community, a de-notified tribe (DNT). For women here, flesh trade has been a norm for generations in the community. Vadia is also referred to as village of prostitutes by many.

All women of the community, which have their roots mostly in Mewad region of Rajasthan, have given into prostitution, willingly or unwillingly due to various reasons like social pressure, poverty and coercion. The men of the families often live off their women`s income and also bring clients for them.

The marriage of girls from this community has become a reality after over five years of concerted efforts by an NGO called Vicharta Samuday Samarthan Manch (VSSM).

"Marriage means that the young girls will be saved from the traditional profession of prostitution. As per norms here, once the girl gets married or engaged, she cannot be forced into flesh trade," co-ordinator of VSSM Mittal Patel told PTI.

"In initial invitations sent out for the mass-marriage we had mentioned seven young girls will get married, while eight others will get engaged. But as of today there are eight girls who will wed and 24 have agreed to get engaged on that day," Patel said.

"These marriages are likely to bring about a social revolution for the women of this community and would be beginning of the end of a regressive tradition that they have been following since generations," she added.

The members of VSSM have convinced boys from the community to marry the girls by building trust among them. It is believed that there are around 100 women from the village who are active in the flesh trade.

"We never told them (the women) that what they were doing was wrong. There was no point as they hardly had two square meals a day. What we did was to give them other options of earning livelihood, like setting up borewell for irrigation water, training them in skilled work and others," Patel said. "The situation has improved since 2006 when we started work in the village," she added.

Even the government has extended support to this event and promised rehabilitation programmes for the women of the Sarania community. "The marriage of these young girls is going to bring a a sea change among women of Sarania community. It will benefit them immensely," Banaskantha District Collector J B Vora told PTI.

"This is a significant event as it attempts to bring the community into the main stream. We shall continue support to the organisations working for these women," Vora said. Vora also said that they are also planning new rehabilitation programmes for Sarania women. Though there have been earlier attempts by the state government and NGOs to get the women out of sex trade, they have failed due various reasons, he added.

The Sarania community originally hails from Rajasthan. It is believed that their ancestors worked with the royal armies, making arms for them and ensuring that the weapons remained in good condition all throughout. The army would always be on the move, and so the Sarania community also moved with it.

After the community moved to Gujarat they took to the occupation of sharpening knives and thus they got the name from `saran` – an instrument to sharpen the knives.