Recently, we spent an intense few days of filming in a small village near Sanchi, in Madhya Pradesh. The village we visited was a Bedia community, which means that the women engage in family-based prostitution, an occupation that is traditionally passed down from mother to daughter. The boys of the community are expected to become pimps, inviting men from outside villages to come and spend their money. Instead of the typical NGO approach (arrive, begin an awareness campaign, give the women temporary alternative means of employment, and leave after a year or two), Ajeet has engaged in a slow but powerful intervention. Thirteen years ago, he began spending time in the village. He established himself as a quiet presence there, buying a small plot of land and building an informal afterschool center for sixteen young children, similar to his NFE center in Varanasi. Every day, he would walk the children the 5 km to the mainstream school nearby, and slowly gained the trust of the older villagers.
Over the past decade, Ajeet has become immensely respected by the community. The women come to him with questions about how they should manage their finances, and keep their children in school. Ajeet tells them about everything their daughters can become – successful engineers, teachers, doctors. The women we spoke with told us that since Ajeet began his work in the village, there is less alcoholism and domestic violence, more girls go to and stay in school; there is hope for their futures. The impact of his nontraditional approach is not one easily measured, but he has created a more nuanced, long-lasting change in community values.
Ajeet doesn’t take many people to this village – we’re the first people he’s allowed to accompany him. It is a project so close to his heart, and we’re overwhelmed with gratitude that he trusted us to come and film there. Below is an image from our filming - a young woman named Hema, lighting her stove in order to cook dinner for her family.
Thank you, as always, for following our journey!