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Devadasi- Prostitution With A Religious Sanction

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By Palak Bhambri:

“My mother died when I was three. When I was seven, my brother got polio and was paralyzed. My father had to take out a loan and I went to work rolling bidis (cigarettes) to help pay it back. But it was not enough and the landlord to whom my father owed the money said that he should send me to be dedicated to the goddess to earn more money. I didn’t want to go. I felt very bad. My father said: ‘If you don’t obey me, I will die.’ So I went to the temple”.

This is Anjana’s story who was subjected to the ghastly practice of Devadasi or prostitution (with a religious sanction).

This practice has been prevalent in India since times immemorial. Although the Government put a ban on it once in the year 1982 under the Prohibition to Dedication Act and again in 2004 when the Government of Maharashtra passed a Anti-Devadasi bill, it is still flourishing in parts of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Devadasi literally means God’s (Dev) female servant (Dasi), where according to the ancient Indian practice, young pre-pubertal girls are ‘married off’, ‘given away’ in matrimony to God or Local religious deity of the temple. She serves or rather sexually satisfies the priests and inmates of the temple, and the Zamindars (local land lords) and other men of money and power, in the village or town. For her service to them is akin service to God. There are more than 450,000 Devadasies trapped in this form of prostitution, deified and glorified by the heinous religious sanctions. The girls are enslaved here in the name of tradition and godliness.

The core reason found behind the continuance of this practice hitherto is poverty. The southern parts of India are especially poverty-stricken and the birth of a girl child is taken to be an added responsibility for them. Most of the parents get rid of this ‘baggage’ when the little girl has not even developed the faculty to think by herself. Moreover they see it as a source of additional income and one less mouth to feed. The Dalit or the untouchables mostly fall prey to the Devadasi pratha due to their social status and also due to lack of education. They dedicate their daughters in nascent stages for institutionalized exploitation.

Once commissioned to a temple or to a goddess the girls are forbidden from even simple pleasures that life has to offer – like going out, making friends or sharing their sorrow and happiness with anyone. Joginis, Muralis or Maharis, they are called by multitude of names in different states but the atrocity remains the same. They have been so deeply pulled into the quagmire that there remains no way out. Even if one tries to protest they are given horrid punishments which are unthinkable of.

These days it has become a huge business in which young devadasis are recruited in the city when they attain puberty. They are sent to the red-light areas to practice full-fledged prostitution. This spells doom for them. In a country like India, the pervasiveness of such deplorable practices is a definite setback to the growing women power. We are taught every day about Feminism and we feel inspired by it. It provides us with a driving force to do something radical.

Let’s not forget that everyday girls are being thrown into this vicious system. Such practices need to be removed from the core and denounced publicly. It’s time we talk about them so that the perpetrators know that the people are very much aware of what exactly is going on and hence, the harbingers are punished for committing such inhumane acts. The gruesome facts lie naked in front of us, all we need, to curb this menace is the impetus and some iron in our souls.

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  1. lakshmi

    This is truly a horrid practice, and should be stopped at all costs. Prostitution is a crime under any name and form. It’s a deep-rooted problem and the government should be assaulted more to take stringent action, and our public should be educated. The very fact that such things continue to exist is a shame. Thank you for the article. Brings many things to the forefront of action.

    1. maya

      these evil practicors should be given strict punishment.strict means a very strict punishment..

  2. Bipin Vishani


    1. Raman

      Exactly. It is a shame that our elected representatives did not do anything to eradicate the practice all these 65 years. We got Freedom but not Independence. At least now media is there to expose such atrocities and with the voices of crores of people, hope this crime will end soon.

  3. anuradha

    shameful on the part of parents of those girls who send their daughter to exploit ,shameful on the part of govt who is not able to stop such a shameful practice from the last 60 yrs,shameful on the part of priest and the member of the civil society who is involved in such practices……………………

  4. meenakshi sharma

    being a girl i feel that even in 21st century woman is not given the respect she deserves …shame on us if even after so much education we do not bother about our society .. people r becoming selfish … these kinda practices dat r gong on must b banned and the culprits must b punished hardly…..t in the name of god they r destroying the most beautiful creation of god”woman”
    remember ::
    “yatra naryastu pujyante ramnte tatra devta ”
    but today the same nari is being expolited by this brutal society …must raise ur vioce nt jz commenting over it but acting over it….

    1. sachin kumar

      Also read aitrai brahman,maitryani sanhita ,tristhisalakasutra ,satpath brahman ,everywhere women have been described rightly ……………….do read it!

  5. Nikhil

    The condition of devadasis in present-day India is indeed deplorable. But merely terming it an institution of sex slavery is a shortsighted view and reveals that the writer of this piece sees no distinction between prostitution and the devadasi tradition. Devadasis, at least 5-10 centuries back, were highly educated women, well versed in the arts and were treated with respect in society, not like how they are treated today. If India has a rich tradition in the arts, it is to the devadasis that we owe it to. They were also financially independent and had the privilege of having a partner and bearing children.

    It is our Ultra-Victorian mindset, influenced by the prudery of the British Invaders, that has led to the denigration of these women. Here is an interesting interview with one of the last survivors of the traditional Devadasi cult:

  6. vijay

    sir how to help direct any one devadasis
    because i am help to cry
    i ask him send me one childern address i give help ti direct but not response me after i am close to help
    give me any devdasis add i am give to budget help for monthly basis

  7. Vishnu

    “The southern parts of India are especially poverty-stricken”
    ESPECIALLY? EXCUSE ME! but the BIMARU parts of India are the ones which is poverty stricken, South is relatively doing much better!

    The REAL reason for this tradition is that it originates from feudal South Indian Kings using Temples as brothels.

  8. priya

    This was not present in ancient india.N hinduism doesnt allow such things….it was created by britishers for enjoyment of theri officers n troops…for more info follow ajit vadakayil’s blog

  9. Bhuvnesh Kumar

    भरतनाट्यम् : देवदासी प्रथा का प्रतीक

    भरतनाट्यम मुख्य रुप से दक्षिण भारत की शास्त्रीय नृत्य शैली है। यह भरत मुनि के नाट्य शास्त्र पर आधारित है। वर्तमान समय में इस नृत्य शैली का मुख्य रुप से महिलाओं द्वारा अभ्यास किया जाता है। इस नृत्य शैली के प्रेरणास्त्रोत चिदंबरम के प्राचीन मंदिर की मूर्तियों से आते हैं।
    भरतनाट्यम को सबसे प्राचीन नृत्य माना जाता है| इस नृत्य को तमिलनाडु में देवदासियों द्वारा विकसित व प्रसारित किया गया था| शुरू शुरू में इस नृत्य को देवदासियों के द्वारा विकसित होने के कारण उचित सम्मान नहीं मिल पाया| लेकिन बीसवी सदी के शुरू में ई. कृष्ण अय्यर और रुकीमणि देवी के प्रयासों से इस नृत्य को दुबारा स्थापित किया गया| भरत नाट्यम के दो भाग होते हैं इसे साधारणत दो अंशों में सम्पन्न किया जाता है पहला नृत्य और दुसरा अभिनय| नृत्य शरीर के अंगों से उत्पन्न होता है इसमें रस, भाव और काल्पनिक अभिव्यक्ति जरूरी है|
    भरतनाट्यम् एक नृत्य (नाटक) है जिसे ब्राह्मण मीडिया द्वारा कला रूप में भरपूर मान्यता मिली। भरतनाट्यम् करते वक़्त जो विभिन्न प्रकार की शारीरिक मुद्रा बनाई जाती है वो Sexual Positions ही होती हैं। भरतनाट्यम् के माध्यम से कामसूत्र ही बताया जा रहा है। प्रसिद्ध भरतनाट्यम् विशेषज्ञ रुकीमणि देवी ने एक national geographic channel programs videos में स्वीकार किया है कि वास्तव में भरतनाट्यम् देवदासियों (मन्दिर की वैशया) द्वारा अपने भरत नाट्य को नाना प्रकार की मुद्राएँ मिलती है।
    भरतनाट्यम एक भारतीय शास्त्रीय नृत्य है जोकि तमिलनाडु के मंदिरों और पड़ोसी क्षेत्रों में शुरू हुआ। भरतनाट्यम, एकल नृत्य है जो विशेष रूप से महिलाओं द्वारा किया जाता है।
    दक्षिण भारत में, देवदासी वो लड़की जो जीवनभर मंदिर में रहती है, समर्पित भाव से पूजा करती है, देवता की सेवा या उसके जीवन के आराम के लिए काम करती है। इनको मूल रूप से, मंदिर की देखभाल और अनुष्ठानों के प्रदर्शन के अलावा, इन महिलाओं से भरतनाट्यम्, ओडिसी और अन्य भारतीय शास्त्रीय कलात्मक परंपराओं का अभ्यास करवाया जाता था ।
    ये ‘देवदासी’ एक हिन्दू धर्म की प्राचीन प्रथा है। भारत के कुछ क्षेत्रों में खास कर दक्षिण भारत में महिलाओं को धर्म और आस्था के नाम पर वेश्यावृत्ति के दलदल में धकेला गया। सामाजिक-पारिवारिक दबाव के चलते ये महिलाएं इस धार्मिक कुरीति का हिस्सा बनने को मजबूर हुर्इं। देवदासी प्रथा के अंतर्गत ऊंची जाति की महिलाएं मंदिर में खुद को समर्पित करके देवता की सेवा करती थीं। देवता को खुश करने के लिए मंदिरों में नाचती थीं। इस प्रथा में शामिल महिलाओं के साथ मंदिर के पुजारियों ने यह कहकर शारीरिक संबंध बनाने शुरू कर दिए कि इससे उनके और भगवान के बीच संपर्क स्थापित होता है। धीरे-धीरे यह उनका अधिकार बन गया, जिसको सामाजिक स्वीकायर्ता भी मिल गई। उसके बाद राजाओं ने अपने महलों में देवदासियां रखने का चलन शुरू किया। मुगलकाल में, जबकि राजाओं ने महसूस किया कि इतनी संख्या में देवदासियों का पालन-पोषण करना उनके वश में नहीं है, तो देवदासियां सार्वजनिक संपत्ति बन गर्इं।
    कर्नाटक के 10 और आंध्र प्रदेश के 14 जिलों में यह प्रथा अब भी बदस्तूर जारी है। देवदासी प्रथा को लेकर कई गैर-सरकारी संगठन अपना विरोध दर्ज कराते रहे। सामान्य सामाजिक अवधारणा में देवदासी ऐसी स्त्रियों को कहते हैं, जिनका विवाह मंदिर या अन्य किसी धार्मिक प्रतिष्ठान से कर दिया जाता है। उनका काम मंदिरों की देखभाल तथा नृत्य तथा संगीत सीखना होता है। पहले समाज में इनका उच्च स्थान प्राप्त होता था, बाद में हालात बदतर हो गये। देवदासियां परंपरागत रूप से वे ब्रह्मचारी होती हैं, पर अब उन्हे पुरुषों से संभोग का अधिकार भी रहता है। यह एक अनुचित और गलत सामाजिक प्रथा है। इसका प्रचलन दक्षिण भारत में प्रधान रूप से था। बीसवीं सदी में देवदासियों की स्थिति में कुछ परिवर्तन आया। अँगरेज़ तथा मुसलमानो ने देवदासी प्रथा को समाप्त करने की कोशिश की। तो लोगों ने इसका विरोध किया…
    अंग्रेजों ने इसको बंद करवाया। इसको ब्रिटिश सरकार द्वारा प्रतिबंधित कर दिया गया था, भारतीय समुदाय ने इस प्रतिबंध का विरोध किया और और 20 वीं सदी में इसका विस्तार मंदिरों के बाहर किया गया। हो सकता है आज भी गैर-कानूनी रूप से कहीं देवदासी प्रथा चल रही हो।
    इस अश्लीलता को (भारतीय शास्त्रीय नृत्य) Indian Classical Dance के नाम पर परोसा जा रहा है।
    मोहिनीअट्टम का भी वही हाल है। पौराणिक मोहिनी मोहिनीअट्टम, जिसको मोहिनी अट्टम भी बोला जाता हैं यह “मोहिनी” शब्द से लिया गया है जो भारतीय पौराणिक कथाओं में भगवान् विष्णु का एक प्रसिद्ध नारी अवतार हैं
    मोहिनी का अर्थ एक “दिव्य जादूगरनी या मन को मोहने वाला” होता है। जिसका अवतरण देव और असुरों के बीच युद्ध के दौरान हुआ था जब असुरों ने अमृत के ऊपर अपना नियंत्रण कर लिया था। मोहिनी ने वो अमृत असुरों को मोह में लेकर देवताओं को दे दिया था.
    कभी जो देवदासियाँ मंदिर में नाचती थी, अब भारतीय स्त्रियॉं को भरतनाट्यम् और मोहिनीअट्टम के माध्यम से नचाया जा रहा है और भारत की भोली-भाली लड़कियां बिलकुल बेखबर होकर पैरों में घुँघरू बाँधकर व देवदासियाँ बनकर नाच रही हैं। नारी के शरीर की नुमाइश की जाती है। पूरे दक्षिण भारत में शास्त्रीय नृत्य और शास्त्रीय संगीत के नाम पर ब्राह्मणवाद अपने चरम पर है।
    जो पुरुष भी इस शास्त्रीय नृत्य का अभ्यास करते पाये जाते हैं वे समलेंगिक दिखाई देने लगते हैं। शास्त्रीय नृत्य के नाम पर पुरुषों को नपुंसक व समलेंगिक बनाया जा रहा है। ब्राह्मणवाद कहाँ तक पहुंचा हुआ है, ये समझने की जरूरत है। इसलिए ब्राह्मणवाद को जड़ से उखाड़ने के लिए इन बातों पर भी ध्यान देना जरूरी है।

    निकालो नारियों को इस दलदल से बाहर

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        The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

        Read more about the campaign here.

        A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

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        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

        Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

        A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
        biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

        Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
        campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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