Habla, a small, nondescript village in Madhya Pradesh’s Sagar district is changing, moving away from the pains of a dark past.
More than 20 young boys and girls from the village - over 240km from capital city Bhopal - are now pursuing different degrees in Sagar University. More than 40 others travel to neighbouring Naryawli village to attend a higher secondary school.
For these boys and girls, education is the only way forward. For, this village of 700 is inhabited by the Bedia community, once known for pushing their daughters to the flesh trade through a traditional dance called Rai.
The winds of change are sweeping through the 35,000-odd Bedia who are spread across several districts of the state including Sagar, Chatarpur, Panna and Tikamgarh in the Bundelkhand region.
“I want to complete education and get a job so that I can take my family away from the community tradition which is looked down upon,” said Pankaj (name changed), son of a Bedia Rai dancer.
The Bedia community is synonymous with the Rai dance - frowned upon by many for its suggestive moves - performed by young girls in a group with drummers and singers.
The Rai dance is performed on auspicious occasions at the house of rich and influential people who consider it a status symbol. Pankaj’s mother ensured that her two daughters did not enter the profession and married them off. The force behind the change was Champa Ben, a Gandhian, who came to MP as part of Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan (land donation) movement in 1950s. It was her effort that children of Bedia community started going to schools and women gave up the ill-famed profession. Late Champa Ben established the Satya Shodhan Ashram at Pathariya village in April, 1984 with an aim to provide education to Bedia children.
At present, the ashram runs a co-ed high school in Sagar with boarding facilities for children upto class VIII. “Bedia children who studied here are well placed. They went for higher studies and many of them are in government jobs,” Ashram’s caretaker Ramji Dubey said. In Pathariya village, too, not too far away from Habla, the change is noticeable.
It has a population of 1500 people, 90% of whom are from the Bedia community.
Today, about 60 persons of Pathariya including women are in various jobs.
Of these, 20 are employed at the ashram which gets grant from the government scheme and rest are employed in state police, NGOs and different government departments.
Professor Diwakar Sharma of sociology department in the Dr Hari Singh Gour Central University said that the Bedia community has realised the social evil and are moving away from tradition.
However, marriages are still held within the community and others still look down upon the Bedias. As a result, many families have started using surnames like Gandharva and Bedi.
Sagar MP Laxmi Narayan Yadav, who was associated with late Champa Ben’s movement, said she transformed the community to large extent.
“It was a revolution. The Bedia community needs another revolution to get rid of the social evil completely,” he said.