PUCL Bulletin,

September 1982

From bondage to brothels
-- By Majiri

Jaunsar Bawar is located in the Himalayas and forms the northern half of Dehradun District. The area was under the rule of local Rajput kings till 1815 and its history goes back to the Ashokan period containing as it does a rock edict of Ashoka's inscriptions. It's present however however is hardly anything to be proud of, being as it is, a living testimony of a special form of bondage which leads to women of indebted families into the brothels of North India.

The extent of bondage in the Chalaota and Kalsi blocks of Northern Dehradun District has been detailed by government functionaries themselves according to whom there are as many as 19,000 bonded labourers. This large number does not however give an account of the enormity and intensity of their exploitation unless we take into consideration the large scale trafficking in women that exists in the area and which is the outcome bondage. The bonded labourers are mainly drawn from among the aboriginals such as the Koltas, Bajgis, Doms etc. who constitute the rock bottom of the society. They are bonded mostly to the upper castes consisting of Rajputs and Brahmins who control the land and practice money-lending. Polygamy and polyandry are both practiced in the areas with the richer folk practicing polygamy and the poorer ones sharing a wife in common. Thee Koltas who are Harijans are landless, are very poor and can be described as representing a democracy of beggars. In the last two hundred years the condition of the indigenous tribals of the area has deteriorated sharply since the British introduced land legislation which was detrimental to the tribals. The result was a complete proletarianisation of the tribals who becomes totally dependent on the Rajput and Brahmin money-lenders for their basic needs.

In the 1920's the area came into contact with procurers who were on the lookout for 'white slaves' to supply to the brothels in the cities. Using the comparatively freer sexual norms of the tribals with its tradition of polygamy and polyandry, the procurers built up a flourishing trade in flesh by exploiting the abysmal poverty of the poorer sections. When the Koltas and other tribals are desperately short of resources they take loans from urban agents who in turn take their women into custody and have them work as prostitutes in the city brothels. The women are kept under observation, their earnings are confiscated for lodging and for repaying the loan leaving only a meagre pittance to the women for their basic needs. They cannot leave the premises till the loan is repaid and as they earn by little, it often takes them years to free themselves. There are virtually no medical facilities resulting in their vulnerability to diseases of all kinds. Many of them have children who are sent back to the village to be brought up by their husbands.

The following case studies give a graphic account of the transition from bondage to brothels.

1. Padma is a 17 years old girl of Lakhmandal village whose parents are very poor. She has two other sisters and a brother and her father who as a bonded labourer has a hard time surving. Padma was married off to another bonded labourer who subsequently freed himself by handing Padma over to a city agent for Rs.800/-. Padma became bonded instead and she was taken to Delhi where she was forced to work in a brothel. When she protested at the inhuman conditions of her existence, the agent reminded her of the amount she had to pay back on behalf of her husband. Padma was rescued after a raid on the brothel but she has now contracted TB and is in a state of depression because of her experiences.

2. Bisla is now 26 years old. At the age of 16 she was married but was unhappy because her husband drank, did not work and the family was practically starving Bisla left her husband and ran away. Subsequently she married a landless labourer. Bisla and her husband wished to buy a plot of land so they borrowed Rs.1000/- from a money lender who in turn wanted Bisla to work in a brothel in Delhi. Bisla left her infant child with her husband and went to work in a brothel in Delhi. She returned to her husband after a year and a half. Although now they had a plot of land, they were not able to make ends meet because the plot was small and they were short of implements and other inputs. They borrowed money once more and Bisla returned to the brothel. Two other sisters of Bisla were also married to her husband and all three sisters now take turns in the brothel and the village in order to support the growing family consisting of the children of all three sisters and their common husband.

3. Case:3. Kamla Devi alias Daulti is the first woman from the area to have gone to work in a brothel. Her parents were very poor, had no land and her father was a bonded after taking a loan of Rs.200 mainly for the marriage of his elder daughter. He was bonded to his landlord. When Daulti was 16 or 17 years old a rich Brahmin of the village offered, to free Daulti's father in return for Daulti. He promised to marry Daulti but instead he took her to Saharanpur where he earned a lot of money by hiring her out. Daulti became a prostitute and is now old. Daulti has remained bonded to the Brahmin. She could not marry or have children and today is still handing over a part of her earnings to the Brahmin's son to repay the original debt.

These case studies indicate a complex pattern of bondage operating in the Jaunsar Bawar region which is found upon the extreme poverty of the landless and in which the bondage of men results in the transportation of the women into the brothels of the cities. The men may begin by being physically bonded but the women end up in sexual bondage.


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