Print edition : July 30, 2004

AT the height of its notoriety, the Baina beach was home to 2,500 commercial sex victims (CSVs), around 60 per cent of them from Andhra Pradesh and the rest mainly from Karnataka. However, the number had come down to around 450 by the June 14 demolition.

Baina's association with the sex trade goes back to the Portuguese colonial times when seamen visiting the nearby port of Mormugao spent time at Baina. The post-colonial era saw a rapid expansion of the port and with it a large floating population of seamen and labour. Added to this was the influx of domestic tourists. Baina's notoriety grew rapidly and by the early 1970s the flesh trade had struck root, with clients being drawn from the floating population, the migrants and the local people.

The post-Independence era also brought about a sea change in the profile of the sex workers at Baina. With better educational and employment opportunities available to the local population, Goans disassociated themselves from the flesh trade. Goan CSVs were soon replaced, initially by women from Karnataka's northern districts such as Bagalkot, Bijapur, Gadag and Dharawad, and later by women from Andhra Pradesh's coastal belt areas such as Rajamundry, Vijayawada, Mandapeta and Kakinada. In the past 20 years women from Andhra Pradesh outnumbered those from Karnataka.

The Devadasi system that prevailed in Karnataka played a major role in sending many young girls to Baina. Girls, mainly from poverty-stricken families, were brought to Goa promising jobs as domestic helps or labourers and then forced into the flesh trade. In other instances, agents provided loans to families that had migrated to Baina looking for construction work and, when they failed to pay back, forced their women into the trade. In many cases the girl became the family's only breadwinner.

It was poverty, the trauma of a failed love affair or, in the majority of cases, landlords who exploited their families, that drove the girls from Andhra Pradesh to Baina. Tara, who is from a village close to Vijayawada, said: "The practice of vetti chakiri [bonded labour] helped the landlord harass my family. Not only had I and the rest of my family to toil in the fields the whole day, but I had to visit the landlord, his son and his son-in-law at night. I ran away to Vijayawada and then a man brought me to Baina and sold me to a gharwali. This is better than staying in my village. At least here I earn money and spend it as I like."

According to the CSVs, the trafficking of girls from Andhra Pradesh to Baina is part of a well-organised racket. Prospective victims are identified and contracted by agents who in many cases pay the girl's parents or guardians an advance of about Rs.15,000. The girl is then sold to a gharwali. The girl is expected to earn at least Rs.500 every day if she is to secure an income. This continues for three to four months, during which time, depending on her age and appearance, she could earn between Rs.5,000 and Rs.15,000 a month. Later she is dispatched to other destinations in India. Simultaneously, girls from other places are sent to Baina, thereby ensuring a regular supply of new CSVs at each location.

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