A village in western India witnessed its first mass marriage ceremony on Sunday, with eight couples tying the knot in an attempt to break the tradition of prostitution that has long been associated with the community, Reuters said.

The community event, which was organized in the village of Vadia, western Gujarat, also held an engagement ceremony for thirteen other girls, all minors, who will marry local community boys once they reach the age of 18. According to a DNA report, over 2500 guests attended the gala event, which like any other Indian wedding ceremony followed traditional rites.

The girls belong to the Saraniya community, a nomadic tribe, which has sexually exploited its women for centuries.

Prostitution is a tradition which this community adopted for ages and it has been very normal for them. They did not think they were doing anything wrong. But it is uncivilised, indecent, development officer Vijay Bhatt said to the news service.

Activists believe that organizing such an event will help these girls avoid the same fate as their mothers, most of whom are involved in the sex trade.  Marriage means that the young girls will be saved from the traditional profession of prostitution, Reuters quoted Mittal Patel, an activist from Vicharata Samuday Manch which helped organize the event. Once the girl gets married or engaged, she cannot be forced into the flesh trade.

For some of the brides, the event symbolized the onset of a social revolution for the women of this community. Today is a day to rejoice. From the day I began to understand the world, I was taught other skills, like embroidery, to earn a livelihood. Whatever happened in the past needs to be left behind. I feel very different as I am getting married today, said Hema, the first bride from the village, in a statement to DNA.

The village of Vadia, situated in the northern district of Banaskantha, is notorious for forcing girls, some as young as 12 years old into prostitution. Women from the community, who were once dancers and singers for the local warlords during pre-Independence era, were later roped into the sex trade as a means to make easy money. With their reputation tarnished, many community girls were considered unsuitable for marriage and prostitution began to thrive in these regions.