By Shivnath Jha
Orissa has always in the news from time to time because it has an unprecedented number of young unwed mothers between the ages of 14 to 20. Shunned by society and rejected by their families they are allegedly falling into the hands of traffickers and an estimated 3000 girls are traceless from the western districts of this province every year. Apparently they had been promised for marriage and a good life. Frequent natural disasters in this area have made a large number of people destitute, making them easy targets of sexual exploitation.
Neither the Indian government nor the local panchayat have come up with any positive solutions.
According to Mr Amrendra Kishore, the chairman of the Dharti Foundation, engaged in finding a solution for years, said: “The number of unwed mothers is more than 40,000. What is more, the number of such young women is steadily on the rise.”
Their number exceeds 40,000. On an estimate, in the next two years, there is likely to be a four to five thousand increase in these figures. With their mountains and forests, that proves to be an ideal haven for those wishing to make these innocent tribal girls the victims of their lust. At the same time, the prospect of teenage pregnancy is completely mystifying for them.
The reason: The perfect balance between civilization and ‘development’ which is promised by the socialist state still does not have any solution for the justice and rehabilitation of such oppressed girls. Whenever the issue of such modern women uprooted from their families and society comes up, the legal terminology of “adult” and “non-adult” or that of “mutual consent” tends to let the offenders get off in the ensuing confusion. These legal loopholes have filled the hearts of these poor girls with despair and the ministries and government seem to be helpless too. Due to these reasons, the plight of unwed mothers and their children is a matter of deep anguish.
Mr Kishore said that “unmarried mothers were characterised as lying, manipulative, irresponsible, promiscuous, and sexually corrupt and as bad mothers. There is a commissioner’s report that tells us, for example that “continued illicit intercourse has, in almost all cases, originated with the females” and that “female in very many cases becomes the corrupter” the women” feel no disgrace”.
Individual experiences and realities often bear no resemblance to the dominant discourses in society. It is interesting to note that in England in 1834 New Poor Law, unmarried mothers were considered undeserving welfare subjects.
“In course of interaction with various cases, the meaning of democracy, equality, liberty, freedom, empowerment and likes spontaneously become meaningless all together. This is contrast and climax, if we talk for social justice or women empowerment. The lure of glamour, the thrill of passion, innocent surrender and amorous jungle trysts. This scenario is replete with tales of fleeting love and bewildering abandonment, of lingering hope and crushing disappointment,” Mr Kishore maintained.
The poor girls of Orissa are going to be victimized by the rich farmers and the corrupt bureaucracy. Panchayats in Orissa have been empowered recently to take a greater role in policy. Empowering local people on areas of local issues may be the right way forward but on issues that affect the rights of women may not be such a good idea. Villages in India are still imbued with the stereotypical image of Indian female sexuality more akin to the Victorian – the passive, pure and innocent woman.
These unwed mothers needs to raise awareness about the plight of young girls who have been raped or seduced by the forest officials, Government employees or others temporarily posted to these remote regions and later left to fend for themselves with the double burden of growing children and social stigma. It is not only those tribal societies are close to nature; trusting and therefore their womenfolk are easy to exploit.
In the original tribal social structure, sex before wedlock was not taboo. Unwed mothers were therefore also not looked down upon and it was considered honourable to marry a woman who had already given birth to children. Young people were trained in sexual skills before marriage, through youth centers. Tribal society recognized its responsibilities towards children that might be the result of relations before marriage. But with the invasion of the `developed’ world, with its lethal mix of license and hypocrisy, the young girls get exploited by urban men who satisfy their lust and later abandon them.
The tribal society has been invaded in more ways than one. Its young men, influenced by the culture of “Govinda films”, no longer wish to marry girls who are not “fresh”. The result is total destitution for these women and children, and agony that often lead to mental imbalance. The shocking prevalence of such examples in Orissa does not mean it does not occur elsewhere, once a researcher of my team asked an unwed mother why this occurs so much in Orissa. She said, if there were no facilities for abortion or contraception in places like Delhi, the problem would be huge there too.
The bone chilling statistics about the dire poverty of the region. See this; a labour contractor pays Rs.45 to a man and 35 to a woman for a day’s work. But a woman that he will pay her Rs.100 if she spends the night with him as well. Even a kilo of chicken costs more than Rs.65 in Kalahandi. This means the value of a woman is less than this. Actully, there is no policy for these people who have no one to speak for them. Though there are programmes for the “Five J’s” – jal, jungle, zameen, jaanvar and jan – one can feel this important and shameful aspect of India has been totally neglected.
The strong-bodied tribals have been at the exploiting end from every direction, even as they have been deprived of the benefits of state welfare. A sense of inferiority, the lure of a few extra rupees, colourful sarees and skirts and the desire to marry and live out the fantasy of an urban life have turned the women of these regions into commodities of people’s lust. This is the reason, the keepers of social development manage to snare them and use them for their bodily desires too. As a result, those agents who are out to raise their awareness and empower them are also busy cutting out a portion of the tribal girls’ identity for themselves. While collecting data for this project in the targeted districts of Orissa, we have come across many incidents, which make it clear that even grassroot bureaucrats and teachers, who pose as agents of democracy do not shy from exploiting these women. The Kalahandi district administration confesses that elderly and senior citizens posing as teachers have added to the sexual exploitation of these daughters of the forest.
Out of these unwed mothers, a few are integrated back in society. But mostly, more than 98% of the unwed mothers are considered a source of pollution in homes and villages. According to Harjinder Singh, who is an advocate of Bhavanipatna, “The neighbours don’t want to see them around and their families throw them out on the second and third day of their pregnancy. Under these circumstances, they are either reduced to menial labour to make a living or else they live out their lives in the shelter houses of some NGOs”.
Many of the unwed mothers of the remote areas of Phulbani, Bolangir and Rayagada, resort to prostitution in the highway dhabas after giving birth. After making a survey of the targeted districts, especially all these north west districts, the picture that is emerging attests to the high frequency of unwed mothers among the tribal and other denotified groups, whether it is in the hills or plains.
According to social activist in Basmatipur of Kalahandi Sandhya Devi, “If proper steps are not taken to bring the situation under control, it would become very difficult to save ourselves from the resulting social chaos.” Pitambar Pradhan, who is an AIDS activist in Khurda says: “More than 60% of the girls in the adjacent regions of towns, who are involved in the flesh trade are suffering from some or the other sexual disease. The unwed mothers are not free from these ailments either.” Nirmal Kumar Mohanty of Phulbani gives an assessment of the social situation of the tribals: “The state ¾ which regards sex as a matter outside its purview ¾ has a steadily rising number of unwed mothers.”
The civilized and democratic inclination within tribal societies has enabled the tribals to have sexual relations within their communities with the greatest ease. The tribals are simple by nature. Simplicity is part and parcel of their culture. Since they were once completely dependent on the forest for their survival, they have imbibed the free spirit of the forest. Since their economic situation was determined by the bounty of the forest, they deliberated on a lot of issues before getting into a marriage settlement.
Mohanty says, “The groom’s side needs to get an assurance about the bride’s relative merits before giving bride price.” “In the past, it was believed that the women are crucial to the identity of her community, that is why her abilities count a lot. She must not be infertile. She should not be a novice in sex relations. That is why, if she is the mother of one or more than one child, then the groom’s side promptly seals the deal. And if she is bringing her daughter along with her, then it is considered a bonus.” attests Bhushan Nayak (70) of Thapen village, Kalahandi. But already, tribal society is in the process of denying these earlier values of their community, having come under the spell of urban commercial life. They don’t want brides who are already mothers before marriage or who have engaged in premarital sex.
There is no job security or employment guarantee in the state. Nor is there any law to protect the daily wages. As a result, “the informal sector is rife with cases of sexual exploitation. On the one hand, there is a celebration of sexual purity, on the other hand, thikedars freely exploit girls who haven’t even crossed their puberty under the pretext of giving their daily wages”, says Dayashankar Nayak, a social activist.
There are many startling facts in the reasons for the sexual exploitation of young girls. In the coastal areas, during drought season (from February to June) hundreds of young babies and ladies from hilly areas are smuggled and are being supplied at the rate of three to five dollars per head to domestic as well as international tourists in the name of tourism— this is the price of an entire night.
The administration of these backward regions of the state and the pathetic condition of social justice become merely a matter of helpless scrutiny under these circumstances especially by the concerned ministries and authorities as well. The long chain of this alarming situation continues.
The so-called civilized society, its heavy intellectual class, the sociologists, human right activists, women commissions, the whole democractic set up or even the agencies in the name of social justice and women empowerment of the country is forced to mutely monitor the blasting situation which will definitely lead to total disaster.