IPS officer Veerendra Mishra has worked exclusively with the Bedia community for years to help the newer generations escape the cycle of intergenerational sex work. He shares how his efforts have moulded engineers, IAS officers, and lawyers through education.
Kanchan (name changed) is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in law from Bhopal University. Back home, her mother is still engaged in sex work.
“She has always been involved in the work, but she doesn’t want her daughters to face these problems. She has always encouraged me to pursue education,” she tells The Better India.
Kanchan and her mother belong to the Bedia community, which falls under India’s Nomadic and Denotified Tribes. In many households within the community in Madhya Pradesh, it is quite custom that the girl will pursue sex work when she hits puberty — the profession is both a family business as well as tradition. Meanwhile, their brothers begin to work as procurers and bring them clients.
The girls, who often become breadwinners for their families, have remained victims of institutional sex work for long. Meanwhile, the stigma that follows isolates the children from other communities, preventing them from their fundamental right of education.
Kanchan says, “Because of the work that people from my community do, they face a lot of problems. Even after so much exploitation, girls are vulnerable to child marriages. Most of our women make several rounds of government offices, and, unaware of their rights, they are discriminated against because of their work. I want to become a lawyer so that I can help my community and bring a change,” she says.
As a student, Kanchan would be asked for her caste and her father’s name in school. “I would tell them that in our community, we do not mention father’s name,” she adds. Nearly eight years ago, Kanchan had left her village and moved to Bhopal in hope of a better future. Next year, she plans to bring her younger sister to Bhopal.
Kanchan is among the 5,000 children from the Bedia community that have been able to carve a different future for themselves. Thanks to the efforts of IPS officer Veerendra Mishra, children, teenagers, and young adults from 60 villages in six districts are able to move through the stigma attached with their castes to pursue education and, in turn, their dreams — some want to be police officers, some sub-inspectors, and some doctors, engineers, IAS officers, and lawyers, to name a few.
‘The children suffer the most’
“Currently, we have 26 children in colleges, and 37 students in schools in Bhopal. Wherever we work, we have ensured that almost all the children are involved,” Mishra tells The Better India. The non-profit gets financial support from child rights organisations such as CRY (Child Rights and You).
What people believe as a “traditional engagement in sex work”, Mishra calls “community-based sexual exploitation”. “These children suffer the most, because they were being introduced to sex work from a young age traditionally and customarily, and their education level was abysmal.”
Launching his organisation Samvedna, the 53-year-old began his work with 13 children. So far, he has covered districts like Bhopal, Rajgarh, Raisen, Guna, Vidisha, and Sagar.
Breaking a cycle
“Our idea is to create opportunities. When you create opportunity, you generate hope, and when you generate hope, then everyone starts pushing their boundaries. They have to help themselves. We are just facilitators,” explains Mishra, who started Samvedna in 2005 to combat caste-based commercial sexual exploitation and human sex trafficking in the state.
In 2010, he brought 13 Bedia children from Rajgarh district to Bhopal to educate them. “We enrolled them in schools. We handheld them from preschool level, and helped them get higher education and find jobs. We identified strengths of these children and accordingly helped them shape their future,” he says.
Currently posted as assistant inspector general of police-AIG of Madhya Pradesh State Industrial Security Force in Bhopal, the IPS officer has previously worked with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and the Ministry of Social Justice.
It was during his posting in Narsinghgarh of Rajgarh district that he came to know about the Bedia community. “Most of the adults here never left the village to explore other opportunities. Exploitation is normalised to them. We are trying to break that normalisation. We do not believe in stigmas and we do not go to them to preach what they have been doing traditionally is wrong. We let them know about various livelihood options,” he says.
“Sometimes, they don’t have identifiable biological parents because their fathers were customers. Their brothers are procurers while their mothers are sex workers. The entire ecosystem is supporting that tradition. We try to engage with each stakeholder of the community so that they realise the importance of education. Not even one of their kids had passed a Class 10 examination. This was not fair with these children,” he adds.
As children face discrimination at the village level, they enrol themselves as children of other communities. In order to provide a better environment, the team convinced parents to send their children to nearby schools in Bhopal.
“It was a paradigm shift in their thought process. For up to four years, I struggled to convince them. Although the older generation is still involved in sex work, we are trying to help the new generation get out of that circle,” says the IPS officer.
For Veerendra, the work has been a life changing experience. “Perhaps, it has made me a better person. I have learned so much from these children. And I am as passionate about them as I am about my kids. I am not doing this as a police officer, I am doing this as an individual.”
He believes that every citizen should ensure that children from such communities get better education and a quality life free from discrimination.
“We fight for fundamental rights, but nobody values fundamental duties. Every citizen of this country should ensure that these children have equality, because it is us who bring disparity and discrimination,” he says.
Edited by Divya Sethu. All pictures: Samvedna