A change of heart in the Jat heartland

A change of heart in the Jat heartland

The skewed sex ratio in Haryana

A change of heart in the Jat heartland

Newly married couples with the sect chief

Boys from Haryana marrying girls from distant Kerala or tribal girls from Jharkhand or Chhattishgarh, cutting across caste, language and culture barriers, has been making news, due to the skewed up sex ratio in the state, where female foeticide was notorious for a long time.

Now, scores of sex workers are entering wedlock and becoming homemakers in a small town in the Jat heartland, infamous for its miserable sex ratio, is jettisoning the stigma attached to female sex workers. It is a blessing in disguise for girls forced into world's oldest profession. It is hard to find places where sex workers are not looked down upon. Women in sex trade have long been seen with utter disrespect, more often with lust.

Red light areas, where prostitution thrives, are “forbidden” territories for many. For Sunita (name changed) though, it was a place where she grew up in the dungeons of sex trade. It was a distressing and dreadful life. Today, she is happily married and leads a respectable life of dignity with her husband in Sirsa. Her husband volunteered to marry her and has no regrets. He is not the lone one to have done so.

Sample this: Thousands of youth, some professionals, traders and even some business graduates have lined up to marry sex workers willing to give up the profession. The campaign to help exploited female sex workers has caught with unmarried youth like passion in the area. It is now a problem of plenty. There are fewer brides-to-be than the willing grooms numbering close to 2,000.  So far, nearly two dozen such couples have tied the nuptial knot. Half-a-dozen more marriages are being planned in the early New Year.

It all started with a call given by a multi-religious sect, Dera Sacha Sauda, in northern India. “Within no time, the initiative has turned into a blessing in
disguise for female sex workers who want to escape exploitation. The plan is to stop the women from being exploited in brothels by getting them married. It would also stop the spread of the HIV/Aids virus”, sect chief spokesperson and ophthalmologist Dr Aditya Insan told Deccan Herald. Over 100 young sex workers have contacted them from Kolkata’s red light areas to brothels in Delhi and Mumbai. The Dera Sacha Sauda is one of many religious sects operating in northern India, that offer community services, social welfare and spiritual leadership.

What would bring so many youth to enter into such wedlock? Sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh enjoys unflinching devotion from his countless followers, predominantly lower caste Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs across the states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

“I have named all women forced into sex trade as my daughters. Youth are marrying my daughters and none else. Like everyone, they too have a right to live with dignity,” the sect head said. The initiative does not end at simply the marriage. The sect has pledged to look after the girls for life in case the marriage suffers a setback. The women will be given vocational training free of cost, a place to live and the patronage of the sect, Dr Aditya said.

 A couple dances in joy after getting marriedAt the time of marriage, some cash, contributed by the sect, is deposited in a bank account opened for the girl. Household articles are also a part of gifts given to the couple for a new beginning. Many Dera followers contribute Re one per day for a welfare corpus dedicated to rehabilitate these sex workers. The amount is now in several lakhs of rupees.

The sect took up this initiative of rehabilitating sex workers in a well-planned systematic manner, given the existence of a strong mafia that thrives on earnings through brothels.

“Our volunteers have been able to rescue sex workers from West Bengal, Delhi and Rajasthan. It was a long tedious process. The women were provided medical help once out of the trade. The identity of women is being concealed to avoid any possible attempt to ostracise the family,” Dr Aditya said.

The sect does not enjoy the option of choosing from among female sex workers for rehabilitation. Often, sex volunteers have come across many such women who have children to nurse. The sect, however, has provided a way out.

“These children will stay in the sect. They will be given the best of education and all facilities to pursue a career in life,” Dr Aditiya said. A list of hundreds of families, including NRIs, is ready with the sect to help these children.

“They have expressed willingness to take care of expenses needed to bring up children of former sex workers,” he added.

Abhishek (name changed), a local garment trader and a staunch follower of the sect, who got married to a rescued sex worker, says not once did he feel burdened thinking about the complexities attached to his decision. “If our Guruji can own them for life as his daughters, ours is a small gesture. The past of the girl now is inconsequential,” he said.