Saurabh Sharma | Aug 18, 2018 | 5 min read
Nat Purwa: Winds of change blow in village where prostitution is tradition
Nat Purwa, Hardoi (Uttar Pradesh): “Nahi, 500 se kam nahi…,” Hariya, who is in his early 30s, is haggling, quite animatedly, with two men who appear to be in an inebriated state. This goes on for a while until one of the two men reluctantly takes out a crisp Rs 500 note from his pocket and hands it to Hariya, seated at the entrance of his thatched hut.
“Don’t you dare beat her or bite her. Else I will break your legs,” says Hariya, as he pockets the amount and glares at the duo. At this moment, Hariya’s sister Mamta (name changed) steps out, gestures to the men to follow her and goes back to the hut.
A few metres away, outside another hut a similar deal is being struck. The other man is not as hard a bargainer as Hariya is, since his efforts seemed to have earned him only Rs 300 from his customer.
In the village of Nat Purwa, it is business as usual.
A 400-yr-old tradition
Located 72 kilometres from UP’s capital lucknow, Nat Purwa with a population of 5,000-odd residents has a long history of prostitution. Here, prostitution is a hereditary occupation, passed down from one generation to the next.
Residents of the village say that the practice dates back over 400 years and has now become an integral part of the family economy, with men in the family acting as pimps.
Hariya’s sister, who is in her late 20s, says she was pushed into “this abyss” when she was barely 15.
“Young girls in the village are brought up to become prostitutes. They are the breadwinners of the family. I followed my mother and grandmother into the family trade. Initially, bringing money home seemed exciting but there is a darkness to this profession that no one talks about,” says Mamta.
“There were times my customers abused me, some physically, there is barely anything or anybody to protect us except our menfolk, but people also know that the best they can do is give empty threats,” she says.
Like Mamta, many of the village girls are involved in prostitution, but things are changing with the new generation. More girls, including Mamta’s younger sister, have started attending a primary school in the area.
Mamta says, “My life may be ruined but I won’t let my sister endure what I had to. She is in primary school; I plan to send her away from the village soon. I’m secretly saving up for her,” she confides.
Turning over a new leaf
Chandralekha, a former sex worker turned social worker from the village, who teaches at the primary school, says that many women are now resisting this practice as help has come from NGOs and the administration in the past few years.
“NGOs and social activists are raising awareness against ills of prostitution. They have tried to get girls married and a few have even taken up tailoring,” says Chandralekha.
Social activist and Magsaysay award winner Sandeep Pandey, who had opened an NGO ASHA to teach skill development to the women in Nat Purwa village a decade ago, said, “Women are ready to abolish the trade if they have an alternative. We had opened a tailoring centre in the village which became a sort of community initiative. There was problem of space so we ran the centre by rotation at each home. Later, the village pradhan offered us a hall to run the centre. Sessions were also conducted to encourage women to think of alternatives and get out of their regular trade.
Pandey credits Chandralekha with bringing about much of the change in the attitudes of people in the village.
Chandralekha now has her heart set on giving a new identity to the village by making efforts to get its name changed from Nat Purwa to Om Purwa.
A village of ‘bastards’
The village, Nat Purwa, takes its name from the Nat community. The Nats were once performers, including dancers, acrobats, jugglers and magicians. They were forced to prostitution by abject poverty as performing arts became less and less lucrative.
The inhabitants say that the village has come to be
known as a “village of bastards”.
“In Nat Purwa you will not find children carrying surnames because the mother does not know who the father is. So the village is known as the village of bastards,” Chandralekha says.
NGO workers in the village often have to face stiff opposition from families unwilling to let go of a tradition entrenched in their customs and history.
But more than that, flesh trade has become a means of survival for families in Nat Purwa.
While the village is surrounded by lush green fields, farming is not an option since the land is owned by a select few who do not live in the village.
Child and women rights activist Paras Naresh said that apart from Nats, many other tribes have traditionally practised prostitution.
“Like Nats in Utttar Pradesh, there are Bacchhdas and Bediyas in Madhya Pradesh. Prostitution is among the oldest profession in the world. Education and providing sources of alternate employment can help women quit,” he said.
Mamta says that some evenings when women in the village gather there is now talk of a future where their daughters are not part of the flesh trade.
Many girls in the village now dream of work that will give them respect, and hopefully a husband and family.
“I wanted to get married once. But who will marry me? These girls may still have a chance,” Mamta says.
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