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.