Anantpur: Years of drought, zero agricultural activity and the subsequent loss of income has led to a massive crisis in several villages of Andhra Pradesh's Anantpur district. It goes beyond poverty, beyond want of food and shelter and takes on dimensions of social degradation and decay. Women in Andhra Pradesh's Anantpur district are being forced into prostitution to make ends meet.
Rama Devi of Kadiri town, Anantapur, says she lives life in an abyss that's now beyond relief or a U-turn.
It's been an ugly road for her. After two years of no rains, her husband deserted her and her three children. She earned less than Rs 30 a day as a farm labourer and her ill and hungry children would cry for food. Suddenly, selling her own body seemed like a solution.
"There had been no rain for years, and no work. My friend said how long will you live without work. He said he has a job that can ensure a good future for my children. So I took up the job as a sex worker. I had no other option. Many a times clients would beat me, force me to drink alcohol and travel to different cities along with them. But I have to tolerate everything," Devi said.
She is being paid Rs 3,000 a month for selling her body.
It has come at a heavy price too. She is seen as a social outcast, stigmatised and branded. She fears for her life now. Her children also bear the brunt of discrimination.
"My children hate me. I feel bad. Lot of people are doing this here but nobody gets to know their problems. If government comes and helps, women can be engaged in better work. I also did not want to become a sex worker. Sometimes I feel I want to die and not live such a life. I want government to ensure nobody becomes like me or suffers like me," Devi added.
Though she has resigned herself to fate, Devi raises the need for urgent corrective action -- for the administration to step in with alternate employment for many women like her. She appeals for strong action against touts who misuse people's poverty and ignorance.
The low socioeconomic status and lack of employment leaves women in drought-affected areas with no option. Many women are willingly becoming sex workers to help their families, while others are being duped by agents who sell them to brothels across the metro cities.
Naga Laxmi, another victim of poverty thrust on her by drought, had fallen prey to one of the dozens of agents operating in the area. She agreed to move to Delhi after an agent promised her Rs 10,000 a month as a house maid in the national capital.
Laxmi was brought by an agent and sold in a red-light district as a sex slave.
"They would beat us for refusing clients. Even a 10-year-old girl was given injections. She cried a lot but customers forced themselves on her too. Once they put chili in my eyes and mouth. My face got swollen and I could not eat food for several days," Laxmi said.
After months of trauma, Laxmi was rescued in 2015.
NGO Rural and Development Society (REDS) working in Kadiri helped her set up a grocery store. Laxmi joined the NGO and is working with them to spread awareness among the locals. The NGO warns gullible villagers of touts and agents. They are acquainting women with alternate business possibilities and providing financial help.
The NGO officials point out that corrective measures can take place on a wider level only with after there is proper understanding of the drought and the reasons behind it. They also point out that mindsets also need to change.
"Government or politicians are not interested in social issues. For them women and children are the last priority. There is relief only for agricultural-based activity, and not for such victims. This is the reason why the situation remains the same," said REDS Secretary C Bhanuja.
Most are duped by agents taking advantage of their poverty. According to social workers awareness and education, a slow process, is the only remedy.
"We are taking care of distressed sections of society who are prone to migration and prostitution. Government has released funds to handle the situation. This is also a social problem and not just drought related. We are taking helps of NGO also to reach out to people who are facing problems," said Anantpur District Collector Kona Sasidhar.
Poor socioeconomic factors, years of withering agriculture, lack of employment and rising poverty in rural pockets of Andhra Pradesh has led to a massive crisis.For the situation to improve, corrective measures need to reach deep down and to the last person bearing the brunt of drought.