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Accessible documentary (and hopefully spark for social change) about modern-day tradition of child prostitution to support village families
Tonight I saw the documentary film Highway Courtesans on DVD. It is about the Bachara tribe in the western part of Madhya Pradesh in central India. This tribe is known for the tradition of child prostitution, with families making their first daughters, as children, into prostitutes to support the family. The tradition is centuries old and is still practiced today.
The film follows six years in the life of Bacharan Guddi Chauhan from age 16 to 23. She has been a prostitute serving passing-by truckers and others I believe since age 11 or 12, but clearly is uneasy about this forced occupation. Along the way, she has garnered a boyfriend, Sagar, out of her clientèle. Sagar surprisingly seems not to mind her profession.
Guddi's misgivings lead her, against her family's wishes, to leave prostitution and learn enough to become a teacher in a village. How do her drunken do-nothing brother and tradition-bound father react to her independent streak? How does Guddi, as well as some of her peers in the community, Shana and Sungita, feel about the tradition and the role thrust upon them? Change is often a two-edged sword, and would fighting this tradition benefit these young ladies and girls? What other opportunities exist, where do they exist, and do ex-Bacharan prostitutes have hopes of marriage? Can they fulfill their desires to support their families? Why is Sagar vague about his plans to marry Guddi? We see Guddi's father sending her by bus to a larger town to get a proper education; will he support her and let her study? This 71-minute film that took approximately ten years to produce gives insight into these questions. It is difficult to come to terms with forced child prostitution, especially in modern times, and a documentary on this topic could leave one numb. Instead, the film is crafted in an accessible and warm manner. The prostitutes are victims, but somehow Guddi, Shana, and Sungita, are surprisingly strong and confident.
I am impressed with the access that the filmmakers were able to get to the people in the Bacharan village, and to the villagers' willingness to frankly discuss matters. By clearly documenting this story, the producers have used film to possibly make a big difference in the lives of these highway courtesans. But will this age-old tradition become a thing of the past? And if it does, will reasonable opportunities for villagers be available? We can only hope.
--Dilip Barman, Durham, NC (USA), August 17, 2006
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