WIth what words could one describe a “Devadasi”, a modern day slave who is held captive by age-old traditions! In an era where people are striving hard to end gender based discrimination, Devadasi system is an overlooked aspect modern society.
Devadasi, which literally means ‘Servant of God’ is an unjust and rampant ritual which still prevails in many parts of India. According to this brutal system, a girl is dedicated to the Goddess Yellamma-and to a life of sexual slavery-in the name of religion.
The dedication takes place in a 'Pottukattu' ceremony, which is similar in some ways to marriage.
The ceremony takes place at Saundatti, Karnataka, in month of January every year. Here the girl is married to the Goddess, tying a red-and-white beaded necklace around her neck.
During the ceremony, girls stand in front of the deity, wearing nothing but a girdle of neem leaves, which are worn around their waist and placed in their mouth.
Once a Devadasi, they are not allowed to marry a mortal and must serve the sexual needs of the men in their communities.
92% of Devadasi women report depression and 57% report that they have attempted suicide.
These Devadasis are not only socially neglected, but also exploited economically. Additionally, they have the worst health care facilities.
According to the report of National Center of Biotechnology Information (NCBI), there is 10 times more chance of a devadasi testing HIV positive than other FSWs. Not only the physical health, but the mental health is poor as well, as the same report suggests that on an average, 92% of Devadasi women report depression and 57% report that they have attempted suicide.
According to the Hindu, State-level legislation such as the Karnataka Devadasis Prohibition of Dedication Act, 1982, and Maharashtra Devadasis Abolition Act, 2006, had completely abolished such practices.
She was dedicated at the age of 10, when she became a mother at 14 she was sent to Mumbai’s red light area.
However, it didn’t affect the practice. But many non-profit organizations came forward to help.
Organisations like The Freedom Challenge, The Dalit Freedom Organization, Vimochana Sangha, All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, Mahila Abhivrudhi Mattu Samrakshana Samsthe (MASS) are working for the upliftment of this section of women.
All these organisations are taking their best efforts to helps devadasis become financially self-sufficient and motivate them to give up this traditional system.
With the support of these organisations, several devadasis told their stories to make people aware of the situation.
Sivamma, a Devadasi in Huligemma Temple, near her village of Muddaballi in Karnataka state told the Newsdeeply that she was five years old when she was dedicated. Now at 30 she has been tested positive for HIV and works at a construction site to support her treatment.
Another Devadasi and a mother Parvatamma, told The Guardian that she was dedicated at the age of 10, when she became a mother at 14 she was sent to Mumbai’s red light area. Now 26 and diagnosed with AIDS, she has returned to her village, Mudhol in southern India, weak and unable to work.
Remembering the day she was dedicated Roopa, now 22 years old, shared her story,
She was dedicated to the goddess seven years ago and was told that Yellamma would protect her. Her virginity was auctioned in the village, and since then she has supported her family by working as a prostitute out of her home in a village close to Saundatti.
Who thought that the Devadasis, who once enjoyed a great social status would face a miserable turn!
It’s high time we opened our eyes and started considering it as a grave problem.
This brutal ritual and the blind faith should stop at the earliest.
Title image: youtube