Devadasi – Servants of God, used and discarded afterwards
It is an ancient religious practice that still traps young girls in India in a life of sexual exploitation.
In India, devadasi means “servant of god.” Young girls are “married” to an idol, deity, or temple. These girls are often from the lowest castes in India—their parents have given them to temples as human offerings in order to appease the gods.
Though outlawed in 1988, the Devadasi system continues, though clandestinely, forcing women into a lifetime of sexual exploitation. The Devadasi community exemplifies the painful struggle for survival and dignity under this regressive practice.
Despite India’s government law forbidding the practice of temple prostitution, the centuries old religious tradition continues in at least six states in the country. Young devadasis are regarded by some as deities, and then discarded when they grow old.
The annual fair, for instance in the southern state of Karnataka, is evidence that this retrograde practice is alive and thriving. The Yellamma Devi fair is the biggest celebration and takes place on the day of full moon day. On this auspicious day, millions throng to the temple to celebrate. The goddess is worshipped for her strength and power and rituals are conducted in the same way as they were centuries ago. And sadly enough, young girls are ‘pledged’ to a lifetime of service to the deity.
There are an estimated 60,000-70,000 devadasis. Most return to their homes to be auctioned off as mistresses for as long as men will have them and the others wind up in the brothels of the country’s major cities.
The most pernicious aspect of this evil tradition is that daughters or sons of former devadasis do not know their fathers and are not expected to know.
“That is the way it is. It’s all part of the devadasi system. Never ask questions of parentage” exclaims Vijaiwa Sonawa. Her daughter, Bharathi, now a mother of three, does not know who her father is.
Though many former devadasis have got together to form self-help groups and associations to fight for their rights and the betterment of their community, help is difficult to obtain and late in coming.
Some of them I notice are doughty fighters.
“For the community we want the government to tighten the enforcement of the law and seek rehabilitation for the Devadasis. Besides a monthly pension there must be also focused interventions in the areas of health, education, gainful employment and trafficking,” says Sitawa Nanda.
Her campaign has led to some benefits trickling in.
It is paradoxical that in a country which is trying to end the spiraling tide of sexual violence against women, rape and forced marriages this bizarre practice persists. What is immediately required is a stop to this ritual because it is a major cause of child prostitution.
Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Marjory Linardy
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Date12.06.2015 | 16:01
Tags#sexualviolence, child prostitution, Devadasi, empowering girls, girls' rights, India, Murali Krishnan, servant of God, women's rights