By Cake Staff:
In news that is really shocking, a tourism ad offering sexual services by Santhali women in West Bengal came out in a daily newspaper. A complaint has been lodged with the Kashipur Police Station, in Purulia district against the same.
Apart from some typically Bengali fare being advertised (Satyajit Ray’s name is present, of course) the as-yet unidentified travel agency also lists “the sensual touch of the young Santhali woman,” according to The New Indian Express. Not only is it illegal to offer such services, this completely glosses over the history of sexual slavery that women from various tribes and schedule castes have had to endure for centuries.
Santhals are a people that are spread across states such as Jharkhand, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Assam, and the Terai region of Nepal. Already a disadvantaged section of society, Santhali women are doubly vulnerable to gender-based discrimination and crimes perpetrated by men from more privileged communities. Even their own community’s customs have disadvantaged Santhali women, who (until 2008) were barred from adopting children and passing property on to them, thanks to a judgement that disrupted the oppressive patrilineal property laws.
A 2013 National Tribunal, organised by the All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, reported various cases of physical and sexual violence against, and kidnapping or murder of Dalit women. It further highlights how survivors are deprived of legal or medical aid in cases like these. It was that same year that the National Crime Bureau recorded 2,073 cases of rape of Dalit women. Not to mention the many that go unreported due to social stigma, lack of access to legal help etc.
With these painful realities in mind, the Purulia tourism ad is extremely insensitive towards the struggles of Santhali women. Saradindu Uddipan of the Dalit Solidarity Forum had condemned the ad in the strongest words, for so casually advertising the “flesh trade of women.”
The police have promised to launch a formal investigation, and one hopes that this sends a clear message to all advertisers to be more careful about what systems of oppression they promote, unwittingly or not.