Court dancer in the Chitrashala Palace in Bundi, Rajasthan.
Photo: Serena/laif

06.12.2012

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Some communities in rural India have maintained female sex work for generations. Despite a number of privileges, the women involved are subject to strict rules in their communities. A project called Saksham (empowerment), with a focus on HIV prevention, is to help them claim their rights and enhance their social status.

Sex work is one of the oldest professions. It is hard to trace its origin, expansion and colours, also in Rajasthan, India’s largest State. However, the notion of traditional female sex-workers existing in some of the districts has its own context and customs. Through generations, communities like Nat, Kanjar, Sansi, Banchada, etc. have been involved in female sex work, and they and the tradition have become a “normal” element of local society. The communities sustain the profession through sex-work places located mostly in rural set-ups and, loosely, around the major towns.

A glance at history

Historically, the communities of Nat and Kanjar are linked to royal families. As court dancers, the women used to be available for entertaining the king and his associates, and they often served the special visitors in the royal court. The entertainment they offered also included acrobatics and games, and they were under the sponsorship of royal heritage.

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