The devadasi system is an ancient practice in which young girls are donated to gods in dedication and servitude. It has been in prevalence mainly in south India since the 7th century where such devadasis used to live and perform in temples and receive patronage from kings. In earlier times, devadasis were accorded high status in society and adored. In fact, many classical dances like Bharatnatyam evolved from the temple dances of devadasis itself.
However, such practices got diluted with social evils like patriarchy gradually. Teenage girls started to be donated to temples, but be used as sex slaves instead. Prostitution and bondage labour began in the name of this ancient practice and these girls became a victim of sexual desires of men.
Even today, poor parents themselves donate their girl child in the guise of religion and earn money. Prevalent poverty and a lack of educational and employment opportunities force girls into this shameful practice. In addition to this, such vulnerable girls mainly belong to lower caste or mentally disabled community. A lower status in the caste system, untouchability, and subsequent ostracization exacerbate this practice.
Another important point is that even after 70+ years of independence, this practice still exists in South Indian states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, etc. Despite many reformatory laws like The Karnataka Devadasis (Prohibition of Dedication Act) 1982, the police and administration have not been able to curb this. Such practices directly violate Article 23 of the constitution against trafficking, but laws like the POCSO Act 2012 don’t even recognize such crimes.
Such apathy of the state towards the condition of lakhs of girl children is pathetic. Religion and cultural legacy is being misused to perpetuate crime and human rights violations. There is an urgent need to curb this practice and provide public services to this underprivileged and neglected section of society in some states.