Just 350 kilmetres from Bhopal, dotted along the Mandsaur-Chittorgarh state highway are girls and women indulging in the sex trade. Nothing unusual, except these women belonging to the Bachda tribe conduct the sex trade in the name of tradition. For them, prostitution is a way of life, passed down generations. No questions asked.
This happens in 35 villages alongside the highway from Mandsaur to Chittorgarh in Rajasthan where pan shops and tea stalls with girl attendants are just a cover up. Asking for a 12-year-old for the night is not considered unusual.
When NDTV reached the highway and asked for a couple of pre-pubescent girls for the night, they were told it could be arranged for.
On the 100 km stretch from Mandsaur to Chittorgarh, the NDTV crew spotted at least 700 girls soliciting customers. Girls who should have ideally been in school or college. They spend their day luring customers who are mainly truck drivers.
And the presence of policemen doesn't seem to be any deterrent as many women say the police understand and respect 'their tradition.' " The police does not bother us as they know that we have been living here and doing this for generations as part of our tradition," says one such woman on the highway. "There is no particular reason why we are into prostitution. The girls do it of their own free will; we have been doing this from the beginning. There's been no prohibition by the authorities so it has been continuing from generations," she adds.
The police on the other hand say their efforts in curbing this form of prostitution have reaped benefits and fewer girls are now seen on the highway.
But another disturbing reality emerges. While the tribes are now sending their girls to school and colleges, girls from other places and tribes are kidnapped and forced into prostitution. Police say they rescued 62 girls in the last two years, 25 of them who were reunited with their biological parents.
What is ironic is that in the early 90s the Madhya Pradesh Government started the Jabali Yojna, a rehabilitation program for the Bachda and other tribes that push women into prostitution as tradition, but one trip down the highway just demonstrates how the programme's implementation remains ineffective.