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Valentine festival in Naxal heartland: How Muria's of Chhattisgarh keep sex crimes at zero

India Today logo India Today 6 days ago Prabhash K Dutta

Every year on Valentine's Day, self-appointed love vigilantes turn moral police to "discipline sisters and brothers". They fear that Valentine's Day expression of love will pollute the Indian-ness of the youth. A tribal community in the heart of Naxal battlefield may offer some ancient advice to these moral police.

In the Naxal heartland of Bastar in Chhattisgarh, there is a tribal community which puts no taboo on pre-marital sex. They claim that because of their age-old tradition, there is zero sex related crime among Muria sub-tribe of Gond tribal community.

They have a unique tradition of sex education which is considered sacrosanct. They celebrate love and the right to choose partners.

HOW DO THEY DO THIS?

Gonds are an important tribal community in India. They primarily live in the Vindhya hills, Satpura plateau and in southern plains of Chhattisgarh. This stretch is dominated by forests and hills right until River Godawari. In the Chhattisgarh region of this stretch, Muria community has been living for centuries.

The Muria's have a distinct tradition of youth grooming called Ghotul or Ghontul. Ghotul is a basically a hut made up of bamboos or mud. A Ghotul can be compared with modern day nightclubs, where taboos related to sex don't exist.

Ghotul living has been part of Muria adolescents for imparting physical education, skill training, sex awareness and uninhibited entertainment. Both boys and girls are sent to Ghotul once they turn 10.

Boys joining Ghotul are called Chelik and girls Motiyari. The head of the girls' group is known as Belosa and that of boys called Sardar. They are responsible for enforcing the rules of Ghotul. Ghotul also has a few adults, who discharge their duties as consultants and facilitators.

During the day time, Ghotul functions as learning institution where boys and girls learn various skills of livelihood together. Their entertainment time begins with the sunset and continues till late night.

With the sound of nagada (kettle drum), boys and girls are set free to do whatever they wish. Boys and girls mix with one another without fear of being judged by society or elders. They dance and make merry till late into nigh. Ghotul's are supplied with tobacco and toddy.

There is no prohibition from having sexual intercourse with as many partners as the boys and girls wish till they find their match. Once they mutually decide on their life partners and make their decision public, they are expected to spend their time at Ghotul with the would-be spouse.

ANCIENT TRADITION

The Muria's believe that this tradition of Ghotul was started by Lingo Pen or Lingo Dev, who has been given the status of a god among the Gond tribal community.

It is said that centuries ago, when Lingo Dev observed that Gonds did not have an established knowledge imparting system, he developed the concept of Ghotul, which was constructed at the edge of the village. He began giving all-round education from social utility to skill development to sex education.

Ghotul became an important tool of community education ensuring gender equality. Ghotul has a unique way of expressing love. The boy has to make a comb of bamboo. The boys almost enter into a competition of comb making. More attractive the comb, better the chance of a girl choosing him as her partner.

Once a girl makes up her mind, she steals the comb made by the boy and wears it on her hair in a way to display it prominently. This is a way to convey that a couple had decided their love life. However, this allowed only after the Ghotul teachers/consultants declare them as "mature".

Now the pair is allowed to stay together in the same hut and practice everything that a married couple does. This is Muria way of celebrating what is Valentine festival to the outside world and what has helped them maintain zero rate for sex crimes including rape.

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