A mass wedding and engagement ceremony was conducted for 21 girls in a village in western India to prevent them from entering the sex trade as tradition demands. The tradition has for centuries exploited girls from marginalized groups in the region.
NY Daily News reports that a non-profit aid group Vicharta Samuday Samarthan Manch (Nomadic Community Support Forum) organized the mass wedding ceremony as a way to rescue the girls from prostitution. According to Hindustan Times, about 3,000 people attended the ceremony.
Daily Mail reports hundreds of guests from nearby villages and government officials attended the event in Wadia village, 115 km (70 miles) west of Palanpur City in Gujarat state. Eight couples were married and 13 engaged in the ceremony.
According Vijay Bhat, development officer for Banaskantha district: "Prostitution is a tradition which this community adopted for ages and it has been very normal for them. They did not think they were doing anything wrong. But it is uncivilised, indecent. By marrying and engaging these girls we have been able to break this culture. Once a girl is married, she is out of the profession. Once she is even engaged, she is out of this nexus."
Daily Mail reports the Saraniya community to which the girls belong is a nomadic group of about 50,000 that had served feuding groups in the Gujarat and neighboring region of Rajasthan before India became independent from Britain in 1947. The women served as "entertainers," dancing and singing, and providing commercial sex services.
Ramesh Saraniya, whose sister and niece were married in the mass ceremony, said: "We are trying to get rid of this culture and stigma. We want to pull it from its roots. It is happening for the good of our society."
NY Daily News reports the aid group Vicharta Samuday Samarthan Manch (VSSM), spent five years trying to gain the trust of eligible bachelors form neighboring groups who ordinarily consider girls from the Saraniya "damaged goods." According to NY Daily News, a local official who presided at the wedding, said: “This is a historic event which is going to bring in a big social change in the lives of the women of Vadia village.”
Officials say government gave the Saraniya land to provide them with means of making income but easy income from sex work encouraged the men to continue selling their sisters and daughters to prostittution. Huffington Post reports, however, that the land, about 205 acres (80 hectares), is infertile because of lack of water. VSSM says it has been digging wells in the area since 2006.
According to Daily Mail, once the girls are married tradition forbids that their men sell them to prostitution. Mittal Patel of the VSSM, said: "It is damn sure that no one will go into this profession after getting engaged or married as that is how this community has worked. If there is a husband, she won't be sold."
But activists say more needs to be done to prevent girls from being sold to prostitution. Patel said: "Alternative employment to the women is necessary such as teaching them embroidery, boosting irrigation for their fields and for them to do animal husbandry. This will end this cycle. No woman wants to do this by choice."
Hindustan Times reports three of the engagements were canceled when the grooms failed to turn up.