We are all aware of prostitution being the oldest profession in the world, but what about paedophilia, sex trafficking, pornography and other ridiculous forms of pleasure? Just as surrogacy has a protracted history with both, educated and uneducated women, the concept of devadasis also has an extensively lingering and dilatory record.
The abstract notion of ‘devadasis’ originated from South India where devadasis were servants of gods or goddesses and had dedicated their lives to solely worship and live for them. However, initially, this general idea seemed religiously superior as compared to other devotees, but no sooner than, lives were scarred and identities, bruised. References to devadasis, which literally means “god’s servants”, are found in Hindu scriptures dating back 4,000 years. Then, devadasis cleaned the temples, kept the temple bells, and performed ritual dances to appease the gods and goddesses.
Also Read: Devadasi System
The earliest devadasis were virgins, who pledged to remain celibate, but over the years the state began supporting devadasis, and the girls became mistresses to the kings. The devadasis not only had children with their husbands and were initially looked upon by the members of the society, but they also took to prostitution, be it forced or by choice.
Southern India’s devadasi system, which ‘dedicates’ girls to a life of sex work in the name of religion, continues despite being made illegal in 1988. 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 an Anti-Devadasi bill, it is still flourishing in parts of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
Unfortunately, not only in villages of Karnataka, but also Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, etc, several pre-pubertal girls are offered to deities and gods as devotees, i.e. metaphorically marrying them to the God which in turn implies that they aren’t allowed to marry mortals. Just as the parents await a baptism or dedication process for their child, similarly, little girls patiently await to dedicate their lives to divine deities, with little or no consciousness of the dark side of reality.
The dedication process is merely the rose petals on the bed of a newly married couple but the real torture in fact begins when they are persuaded to enter a temple where a man awaits them, individually.
Despite the fact that most devadasi girls are “untouchables”, from the lowest caste in India, the priests do not hesitate to sleep with these pre-pubertal girls. The priests prey on the poor, telling parents that dedicating their daughters to the temple will help family members be reincarnated as high caste Brahmins in their next life. And they offer family members of devadasis the right to enter sacred temples normally closed off to the lower castes. With the level of caste system discrimination and segregation in India, people blindly follow religious rituals even when they make absolutely no sense.
The priests however preyed on the untouchables. What’s more unfortunate is that, even with the innumerable social campaigns in the country, there are still countless loopholes in the society and in the country of India. Even though, most of us think that the devadasi system does not function anymore, we’re unaware of the fact that people still practice these silly rituals only for a dangerous belief and faith, unaware of the fact that these are spoiling lives and destroying identities and bodies of little girls.
Regardless of help provided to several little girls, allowing them to be rescued from these perilous and hazardous environments, the devadasi system still continues to be practiced. Devadasis are not only labelled as prostitutes, but also have people looked down on them today, rather than helping them. It is deeply unfortunate to sell little girls and traffic them for sexual pleasures, but devadasi system is a mere ritualistic term for brothels that consist of little girls that are used only for their bodies.
There a several stories of these little girls who only need a voice for their stories to be heard just like Bheemakka, Parvatamma, Durgamma and numerous more. There are still countless f these little girls in our country and what are we as metropolitan citizens doing about it?
Nothing, most of us aren’t even aware of this issue that is still prevalent in the country. Are we just going to forget and ignore about this like we flip the pages of the newspaper in utter blindness? We have already reached the brim of tolerance and it is high time we voice out the subaltern. Don’t you think so?
Sonia David is an aspiring Counselling Psychologist pursing her post graduation in Psychology. She is a writer with a pinch of sarcasm and wit who loves writing about social and feminist issue. The ignorance and the insensitive attitude of people towards these issues motivate her and fire her up to act against the same, so she is passionate about writing. She has met many people, heard several stories and is a storyteller through her writing skills. She is also a Zentangle Artist as she finds it relaxing and soothing. She also loves travelling and someday she wishes to travel all around the country and help be a change in shifting the patriarchal mentality.