God’s daughters left to God
AIDS scourge in rural Bihar
A peep into forbidden sex zones
Savitri was on cloud nine. She had every reason to be in high spirits. Her love had matured. The boyfriend was now her husband. The dingy thatched shanty was a forgotten bad dream. The new house was almost a castle. The old stink had yielded place to ecstatic aroma of fresh flowers. Days winged into months. Princely lifestyle spared little time to count the days she was away from her mother. There was, of course, no need to keep a count.
One day her husband took Savitri to a beauty parlour. She was transformed into a fairy. Her long hairs were cut and given curls, like waves in the majestic Ganga. Facial massage kissed away pimples. Mirrors told her she was not Savitri but Shalu, the name given by her husband. Her sari and blouse yielded place to skirt and jeans. Shalu laughed in her sleeves. Her age too looked chipped by five years or so. Enticing cavities clouded her rosy chicks as she busted into a coy smile.
A day came when Shalu’s eyes welled up. Her husband, Natwar, Nattu to others, was to go away on ‘some urgent’ business for a month. The separation scene was a reminder of the Shakuntala-Dushyant parting. Nattu consoled her: ‘O sweet heart, 30 days will wear off in 30 seconds’. Moreover, ‘mobile phone will keep us as close as ever’, he assured. Affectionate hug and dreamy kisses took away much of pains and pangs.
Shalu could not realise the cruel joke fate had played with her. Months got diluted into years. There was no trace of Nattu. Meantime, the woman, who had given her traditional welcome at the time of the bride’s arrival, came with a smartly dressed young man. She told Shalu, ‘Nattu is dead. Now this man is your husband’ and pushed her into a room. Soon a ‘new husband every night’ became a routine. Shalu realised, ‘I have been pushed into the flesh trade’ much before the ‘bud’ could blossom into a flower. ‘Husbands’ of all ages and hues were fait accompli now.
The dreams of the damsel in distress had got shattered. Occasional fever-bouts paled her into skeleton. One day she was crying in pains and anguish. Nattu suddenly appeared before her. He had come with another ‘wife’. Her lips twitched in hate and abhorrence. “To bring a new wife was Nattu’s ilk’. She had come to know about this secret.
Now Shalu is back to her village. The ‘revelations’ shattered her completely. To her horror, she learnt that her ‘elopement’ with Nattu was not the result of cupid’s arrows piercing the heart of a budding girl. Her relatives had sold her off for a hefty sum of money. Shalu is not alone to await death. Fifty and odd girls are on the cross in Bihar’s Rohtas, Kaimur, Bhojpur, Buxar and Aurangabad districts. All of them have contacted killer AIDS in the sex markets of metropolitan cities. The number of unidentified cases is enough to shatter and shame humanity. This write-up should not be misconstrued as an obituary of Shalu and the likes. Nor is the piece intended to be an epitaph. Our civil society has no time for such epitaphs.
The dark clouds, however, have some silver linings too. Some NGOs are fighting almost a loosing battle to curb the scourge. Over 40 girls, all AIDS victims, have perished so far. For them God has died young. Who has the time and energy to keep a count of such deaths?
For Shalu, it was the lover, who has signed her death warrant. But, majority of other girls are pushed into the flourishing sex market by their brothers and fathers. Many a survey has revealed this shocking aspect of sex trade. For them, ‘incest’ is a word in dictionary. It has been found that some 22 minor girls have tested HIV positive in Rohtas district’s Amari Tola and Vishrampur villages. , known for housing the families of dancing girls, from generation to generation.
A survey conducted by a non-government organisation (NGO) has identified 50 villages in five districts in central Bihar as the dwelling places of dancing girls, who frequented Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and other places in search of livelihood. The legacy dates back to the days of Muslim rules, which had been well-nurtured by English predators. These hamlets are still known as ‘Englishia gaon’.
Meantime, a representative of a Dehri-based non-government organisation working for the underprivileged, said: “Altogether 22 children in the age group of seven to 14 years of Amari Tola and Vishrampur villages in Sasaram sub-division had tested HIV positive between December 2009 and January 2010”. Their blood samples were sent to a Gurgaon-based laboratory, Religare, for test, he said.
The Rohtas civil surgeon admitted to have received information about some children testing HIV positive in rural areas. “But I am not aware of the names of the villages from where such reports are pouring in. We have decided to launch awareness campaigns in villages identified as native places of dancing girls in the district”, he said.
Our foray into the ‘forbidden land’ was difficult and nerve-testing. We negotiated our passage the hard way. Protruding eyes kept vigil as we moved through narrow ‘gallis’ (lanes). We were told that outlaws rule the roost where angels fear to tread. No one in the village was ready to open his mouth. Talking to girls or women was something like asking for a moon. The luck, however, was on our side. We could make an elderly lady talk. Here is what she whispered in Bhojpuri: What is there to say? Women give birth to men and they make them a marketable commodity. (She then sang a song of an old BR Chopra on the subject.) Since time immemorial girls are being sucked in the world’s oldest profession, she rued.
The woman shied away at the sight of a burly man. It may be noted here that Rohtas district is one of largest suppliers of bar girls to Mumbai. Lure of getting a foothold into the film industry is the biggest catalyst. Occasional police raids in Mumbai bear testimony to this hard fact. The self-proclaimed messiah of the underdogs, the Maoists too have turned a Nelson’s eye to this burning human problem of the hapless girls. According to Intelligence reports, they do visit these villages, off and on, but for pleasure. Perhaps, ‘levy collections’ spare little time for them to think of any thing else.
The saddest part of the story, however, is that the relatives of the infected girls try to dissuade them from taking medicines. They have logic. The news of the deadly disease would spoil their age-old profession. It is said that the minor girls of a few villages are tortured sexually and sent outside during a particular period of time. They return after earning some money. And they get infection of the deadly disease, as bonus.
Of the 22 children tested HIV positive, 11 tested negative after medication for the past one-and-a-half years. “Recently, their blood samples tested negative”, said the NGO man and wore a triumphant smile. The blood samples of the minor girls detected HIV positive had been collected during a visit of a medical team to the villages after several children complained of high fever for more than a month, prolonged period of chill and sweats, and loss of appetite and weight. Three cheers for the NGOs!