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Inside the tiny village in Gujarat riven by the sex trade

Wadia is notorious as a place where men get rich from the sexual exploitation of women.

Wadia, a village in north Gujarat, close to the Rajasthan border, is famous for prostitution. Aside from a few exceptions, most of the boys are raised to be pimps, and the majority of girls, some as young as 12 years old, earn a living selling sex. 

Men come to the village from as far afield as Ahmedabad, Pakistan, Rajasthan, and Mumbai to buy sex, with rates beginning at 500 rupees (£5).

The 600 inhabitants of Wadia are descendants of the nomadic Saraniya community. Saraniya men once worked for the army, which ruled over the region prior to India’s independence from Britain in 1947.

Ever since, realising how much money could be made from the sex trade, the majority of men in Wadia have continued soliciting buyers for their sisters, daughters, aunts, and even mothers.

I head out to Wadia from Gujarat’s main city, Ahmedabad, accompanied by a driver and translator, during Diwali. After almost four hours on the road we reach a hilly terrain and are directed onto a narrow road. Off this are several hamlets consisting of a few huts made from wood and plastic sheets.

I was told that it is unsafe for anyone to travel alone near Wadia. As my driver asks passersby for directions to the village he is warned by several that it is “bandit country”.

“It is very dangerous in Wadia,” says one elderly man walking his small herd of goats. “You will be robbed and maybe even worse.”

As we approach the village, the car is surrounded by a group of young men, all with sharp haircuts, designer jeans, diamond earrings, and good jewellery. They ask the driver why we are heading to Wadia, and whether we are carrying any weapons.

Arriving in Wadia I am met by Amr (not his real name), one of the main pimps in Wadia. Amr, who is in his 20s, speaks good English. He has whitened teeth and is wearing a large diamond earring. Amr immediately calls the man he refers to as the chief of the village, who quickly appears, dressed all in white and with his face hidden behind a large white scarf.

I am led to the porch of the village shop where at least 40 boys and men are gathered. I am given sweet, milky chai in a saucer and one of the two plastic chairs to sit on. The chief takes the other.

I ask Amr if the police try to impose the rule of law on the village. “They are corrupt,” he tells me. “Many are customers.”

No women or girls are visible as we arrive, and when I ask if I could meet some of the women, I am told, emphatically “no” by the chief. I ask why. “Because they will be scared of you,” he says. “They will think you are a police officer.”

There have been occasional attempts from outsiders to prevent the sexual exploitation that has become the fabric of Wadia society.

Vicharti Samudaya Samarpan Manch (VSSM), an NGO working to improve the education and welfare of nomadic tribes in the region, decided that the only way to break the cycle of prostitution was to marry off as many girls as possible. In March 2012, a mass wedding ceremony was organised at which eight young women were married and twelve girls, aged between 12 and 17, engaged. Some of the bridegrooms were regular sex buyers at the village. Most of the women, once married, would still be required to sell sex, with their husbands living off their earnings.

Daughters of prostituted women in Wadia are considered unmarriageable, so they too are forced into prostitution as the only way to survive.

During my tour of the village, on which I was accompanied by a reluctant Amr, I saw several women and girls, dressed in pink or red saris, scurrying into their huts when they spotted me. One woman was going into a half-erected brick building with a man I assumed to be a sex buyer.

My translator tells me that each of the newly-built houses are brothels, and the old huts are the family homes. “Ninety nine per cent are prostitutes,” he says. “The man with the white handkerchief, big broker [pimp]. His wife, mother, sister, daughter – all prostitutes.”

I ask Amr what age the girls start selling sex, and was told, “not before 18”, but according to VSSM it can be as young as 12. I was told by Amr that the women all like their work; the customers are never violent; there are no STIs; and that at most, only one-fifth of the women in Wadia are in prostitution.

Despite the obvious poverty in the village, there are also pockets of wealth. Many of the older men had expensive iPhones, and three of those I met were attending college in Ahmedabad.

“The women are in [prostitution] for life”, Amr tells me, as I say goodbye, “They are illiterate, it is all there is for them.” Clearly pimping is more lucrative for the men than prostitution is for the women.

On asking my colleagues involved in the sex trade abolitionist movement in India if they had heard of Wadia, I soon discovered that this tiny village had almost the same notoriety and potency as Nevada, the only state that allows legal brothels in the US.

Wadia is far away from the legalised sex industries of Nevada, Germany and the Netherlands, but it has something fundamentally in common with those prosperous nations.

Where prostitution is seen as part of the economy and a job like any other, and men are given free reign to treat women’s bodies as a commodity, gender equality will remain a distant dream.

Julie Bindel is a journalist and author. Her book about the international sex trade will be published by Palgrave McMillan in 2016

Photo: Getty
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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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