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Devadasis: Prostitution For A Nobel Cause?

Posted on April 11, 2011 in Society


By Anushri Saxena:

Did you ever think in the absurd-est of dreams that enforced-prostitution could be justified in the name of tradition? Well, if not in dreams then surely reality such absurdity takes place. In the southern states of India, specifically Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, the girls (specifically dalit) on achieving puberty are generously married to a deity called Yellama. And this alliance ‘earns’ them the position of, literally, a public property. To be of use to one and all!

Adorned in gold ornaments is the typical image of a Devadasi – a heavily sacred and binding term which means to be a ‘servant-of-god’. Of course, for many saintly people, nothing could be better than serving the God himself with all that you have. But what an equally divine (read, ridiculous) way of doing so.

The girls fear to come of age because, then, no one can stop them from being auctioned and sold to the highest bidder. The poverty-stricken parents willingly perform this task to earn some money. Later, they console themselves by thinking of this hideous fate they’ve chosen for their daughter, as an offering to God to make Him happy. This is how an old tradition has been exploited to cater to the greed for money and paedophilic practises.

In ancient times, to be a Devadasi actually meant to be an object of veneration. Such girls were bestowed with gold jewellery, respect and honour. They acquired special status in the kings’ courts as musicians and dancers. Eventually, it has become a means for ritualizing prostitution.

For the first time in 1934, the British Government had passed a Bombay Devadasi Protection Act but this was restricted only to Mumbai. In 1984, the State Legislature adopted the Karnataka Devadasis (Prohibition of Dedication) Act which laid down punishments for the ones found guilty.

Presently, the acts have been passed but the ceremonies are still practised secretly. The priests at the Saundatti temple in Karnataka are widely known for guiding parents into marrying off their young daughters to the goddess so that they are permanently barred from marrying a real man. The girls then leave their villages to serve as prostitutes in cities and their outskirts. The parents back home survive on the money she earns.

In the society, the ill-fated Devadasis are disregarded everywhere. Apart from putting up with the social misery, these women are at a greater risk of mental stress and serious ailments like AIDS, syphilis, cervical cancer etc. And the children they bear are never able to get their father’s identity.

Societal wrath. Young ones to look after. Abject poverty. Assaults by anonymous men. These women never asked for this then why in the name of religion are they dragged into such a living hell? Who gave the priests the right to slaughter their dreams?

There are currently more than 25,000 Devadasis in India who are surviving under such circumstances. Yet their lives are still veiled from the general public. Since this is not affecting the oblivious masses, which is lost in cricket glory, sadly the Devadasi issue is not a matter of concern yet.

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