Kadiri women thrown to wolves
Anantapur, Aug 3: As drought ravages the landscape and poverty knocks on the doors of the farmers in this district, the womenfolk are being fed to the wolf. As many as 260 women, largely from the tribal Sugali and Erikula communities in Kadiri, Gandlapenta and Nambulapoolakunta, have started working as sex workers in cities to keep the home fires burning. Jayamma of Rekkamanu village has just come back from Pune after working in a brothel for six months. The Rs 20,000 she earned was used to repaying her husband's debts. A radio blaring in her hut is the only sign of soul-seared 'prosperity'. Jayamma has had a recurring cold and chest infection for a month now. The doctor in the nearby RDT hospital tried to persuade her to undergo the Elisa Test for AIDS. But she's not interested.
Santi, another Sugali woman, had four acre left behind by her husband, but she does not have money to start farming. In desperation, she sought out the local broker who fixed a four-month contract for her in Mumbai.
It is ironical that the local hospital has chosen the wall of her house for an anti-AIDS campaign. Santi has 10 packets of condoms lying in a dark corner of the house but she does not know that the "rubber tubes" can protect her from the deadly disease. "If I have to die, it had better not be because of starvation," she says defiantly. Five years ago, there were only one or two cases of AIDS in these mandals. Today, there are 18.
The menfolk, desperate as they are, say they have no option. The children are taken care of by the neighbours till their mother comes back. Peddiah of Maruvatanda village has just sent his wife Munni to Delhi through a broker. "Munni will come back with Rs 40,000 in a year and we will become the richest family here. The broker is known to us and I am sure she will take my wife to a good man."
The lure of easy money can lead the men astray. Rangula Teja says he wants a motorcycle and plans to send his wife to Mumbai. But his wife Nagamma got a whiff of his plans and went off to Bangalore to work as a jaggery worker.
Local non-governmental organisations put the number of women who have been contracted out of the villages at 430 or more. Hema Bedi of the Young India Project, an organisation which rehabilitates sex workers, says many brokers are former sex workers themselves. Chavallamma of Gandlapenta is a full-time agent who appears to function without any fear. Her house is the only pucca building in the village. It also has a dish antenna. Chavallamma has been in and out of prison several times but there is no concrete case against her. She continues to operate freely and hires several women every year. Kadiri Deputy Superintendent of Police G C Reddiah says that several people have been arrested in the racket but sees the trend more as a social evil than one born out of economic desperation. Bedi of YIP too feels the same way and has reached out to several sex workers who are ready to turn over a new leaf.