The Bedia community of MP celebrates the birth of a girl child – but for a very different reason. One organization, Samvedna, has decided to intervene and open the gates of education and different livelihood options for this community. Here’s more.
In the heart of Madhya Pradesh, every time a woman is pregnant, the family hopes the child won’t be a boy. While many parts of India still see female foeticide and killings of newborn girls often, the Bedia community wishes to have more girls.
At first glance, this may look like the winds of change are finally beginning to arrive in Bedia. But the reality is much darker.
What makes the Bedia community unique is their age-old tradition of introducing girls to prostitution at a young age.
As soon as a girl hits puberty, she is considered ‘ready’ to take up the profession that has been followed by many generations in her community. The girls take charge of earning a livelihood for their families through sex trade, while the men simply stay at home or become pimps.
In strong-knit communities like these, it is almost next-to-impossible to break age-old traditions and change mindsets – rebellion is quashed quickly and summarily.
But Ragini (name changed) is one girl who did not just refuse to follow the same path as her two sisters and mother, but also left her village to pursue higher education.
When Ragini, who is the third daughter in her family grew older, she was also given two choices – to get married or enter prostitution.
But thanks to Samvedna’s intervention, not only did she refuse to become a prostitute, Ragini also left her village to go to Bhopal and finish her studies.
She is now in her third year of college, pursuing engineering. She wants to become an IAS officer and was recently acknowledged by Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi for her immense courage and strong will.
Ragini may be the first girl from her community to go out and pursue a career that is different from prostitution. But she has opened the floodgates for many more girls back in her village.
A large part of the credit for Ragini’s success goes to a Madhya Pradesh based NGO, Samvedna, which focuses on combatting commercial sexual exploitation and human sex trafficking. Started in 2002 by an IPS officer, Veerendra Mishra, Samvedna has been working closely with the Bedia community in the state.
The only source of income among families in the Bedia community is prostitution. They are not educated and, since they have followed the same traditions all their lives, they do not know, or do not want to know, that they can actually earn through other sources as well.
“The Bedia children, both boys and girls, had their own reasons to neglect education. The boys grew up seeing their elders dependent on earnings that the women brought home from engaging in prostitution. The girls were raised with two options only – get married or become a prostitute. In marriage, the woman’s role is decided already – cooking and serving the family. Education isn’t an option,” says Sagar Sahu, Programme Manager, Samvedna.
The Samvedna team believes education is the best way to engage Bedia girls, who might otherwise enter the sex trade.
But the rate of school dropouts in the area is high. The children of this community often face discrimination and humiliation in school, which forces them to drop out. Some choose to present themselves as members of a different community, but this is a blow to their identity and personal growth.
The Samvedna team decided to bring these children together and enrol them in a school located far from the community and the village. They admitted them to government schools in Bhopal where they did not have to change or hide their identities. No one questions their upbringing here and this has given them a new confidence.
“However, another issue was that these kids did not have fathers’ names. Schools refused to enrol them without a father’s name. This is where we intervened again and asked them to enrol kids using just their mothers’ names,” says Sagar.
Thanks to Samvedna, many kids like Ragini have received a new chance to lead a better life.
Samvedna currently takes care of all the educational needs of 14 children from the community, out of which eight are girls and six are boys.
Samvedna is not just involved with the care and protection of these children, it helps them financially as well.
Like Ragini, Shikhar (name changed) too got to see a new world and complete his graduation, thanks to Samvedna. He is now looking for a job in the city.
Apart from education, Samvedna also spreads awareness in the Bedia community about health issues. They organize medical camps and encourage women to go for regular medical check-ups.
But their main focus now is to create livelihood options and educational excellence for them so that they can do other work to earn money. “The challenge here is that we need to provide livelihood options which give them more money or at least money that is equal to what they are earning now through prostitution. Otherwise they will not opt for change,” says Sagar.
The Samvedna team is still working on the plan to set suitable livelihood options in place for the community. They work with 269 families in four villages of the district Bhopal and Rajgarh, and want to mainstream them so that they can also avail of various government benefits they are unaware of right now.
“The change is slow but we have noticed the difference in attitude. The community, which was very reluctant earlier, is now open to change. The members are willing to try new things. Even such small change was very difficult to bring about, but it is finally happening,” says Sagar.
The Samvedna team wants to reach out to more children from the community and support their education. The organization is running short on funds and seeks your support.
It has started a crowd funding campaign and is trying to raise funds to support the overall development and education of 14 children. You can extend your support by donating here.
To know more about Samvedna’s work, check out their website.