India is a diverse country with mortals of various affirmations and contemplation. Since time immemorial we have witnessed the rich culture of this land. However, not a very ignorant fact that India has been a keen follower of many superficial and delusional beliefs. This evil in society has printed its roots, mostly women and children are the ones affected. India being the second most populated country suffers a high rate of sexual exploitation. It is a known fact that women and children are the lion's share of offenses around, their plight can never be described or felt in this patriarchal society. One of the gravest forms of offense against women and children is prostitution and trafficking.
There are many rituals that were followed earlier and now the modernized look is unfamiliar with the concept of the ritual when started. One such practice is the devadasi system.
Who is a Devadasi?
Devadasi is a Sanskrit word that means “Female slave of God”. This form was considered respectable and once held high status in society. Devadasis are usually young girls of 5 to 6 years of age. In this system, the young girls were considered to be married to God and they could not marry any being. However, they can select and spend time with any man either single or married which can be for a long span of time or short. They cannot depend for their livelihood on these men. There were Devadasis who also devoted their entire life to God and stayed without any partner.
History of Devadasi
The Devadasi system is a religious concept with a story of poverty and various social norms. The concept of the Devadasi system was first retrieved in the 6th Century AD during Keshari Dynasty in South India. These Devadasis were Dalit women who were not considered ordinary as they were married to deities, apart from being the wife of an immortal these Devadasis were trained in classical dance and music along with learning 64 types of art. The marriage usually occurs before the girl reaches her poverty. They usually enjoyed a very high status in the society without having any negative effect in the society. It is very clear that the scene of religious prostitution then was a different concept. In 19th-century western missionaries tried to abolish this system stating it immoral and they went underground.
Devadasi- A religious belief?
This underprivileged part of our society believes that Devadasis are dedicated to Goddess Yellemma and this dedication happens during the Saundatti festival that takes place in the temple of Yellema goddess in Karnataka. The older Devadasis take charge to convert the girl into a Devadasi before her puberty. Soon when the girl attains her puberty, the community is informed, and a wealthy landlord or any person comes to take the child away. In return for sexual favours, the person takes care of the financial needs of the family. The charges inflate more in the case of a virgin girl and deflate as the girl gets older.
The present Scenario
In modern-day Devadasis are no longer considered auspicious rather they are now the sex slaves and prostitutes of India. Mostly physically impaired children and girls from the lower section of society are likely to follow this norm. The question is why are they in this position? The children are forced by their own parents to take up this profession as they see no other way for better income. These children fall into this vicious trap of sexual exploitation where they give away the right of their own body to an unknown for fulfilling basic necessity. Since these children and their families are from the underprivileged section of society, their means of living is through cleaning sewage, streets, etc. They see their child as an opportunity to better life by pushing them into the pond of prostitution.
In modern India, these Devadasis are concentrated in the parts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra. In a society where a girl child is considered to be a bane, this is how parents acting as a pimp are turning them into an asset. This practice is a disgrace to society. Apart from having mental trauma, these Devadasis are also prone to many illnesses like HIV. It is evident that these Devadasis are exploited and in return are paid a meagre amount. It is also seen that Devadasis are prone to have sex by connecting with roadside drivers and laborers for rs.20/30 in order to earn their meal for a day. However, like every coin has two sides, here also the story has another side as well. It is important to know that not every Devadasi is forced into becoming a prostitute, there are few people who have opted for it voluntarily and feel nothing wrong with this system of earring money.
The Indian Government declared the practice of Devadasi illegal in 1924 since then many states tried to form laws to eradicate this evil. The first earmark was the Bombay Devadasi Protection Act (“Bombay Act”), 1934, following the Madras Devadasi (Prevention of Dedication) Act of 1947, the Karnataka Devadasis (Prohibition of Dedication) Act of 1982, the Andra Pradesh Devadasi (Prohibition of Dedication) Act of 1988, recently, the Maharashtra Devadasi (Abolition of Dedication) Bill of 2005. Despite of numerous acts and regulations according tо the Nаtiоnаl Humаn Rights Соmmissiоn, in 2013, there were аs mаny аs 450,000 Devаdаsis in Indiа. Аnоther соmmissiоn led by Justiсe Rаghunаth Rао reveаled thаt there аre аbоut 80,000 Devаdаsi wоmen in just Аndhrа Рrаdesh аnd Telаngаnа.
The people involved are either not concerned about the law or is taking advantage of the helplessness of these people.
Sometimes these girls are not even provided a better lifestyle to take care of themselves, they barely know what is going on with them. Few of them even give birth to a child wondering who is the biological father, they also drag their children into this circle and hence lays a generation of Devadasis in a family. The shocking fact is that the Devadasi system still gets customary sanction from various families and communities. Another loophole in the law is despite being the gravest evil, legislation like the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act 2012, and the Juvenile Justice Act of 2015 has made no reference to this kind of offense. Similarly in the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill 2018, there is no recognition of this kind of offense. The law under which we can prohibit its practice is provisions of Section 370 and 370A as amended through Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 as well as Section 372 of Indian Penal Code. It is also against the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act.
Devadasi system is not only a violation of domestic law but also International laws and conventions like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Convention on the Rights of the Child, and Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography
The need of the hour
As it is already known how this practice of Devadasi is a social evil and people are practicing it to earn their livelihood in return getting sexually exploited. If it is thought that women are only into this circle then it is wrong, few men also choose this part to earn their daily living and feel nothing offensive about it. The root cause of this system is ignorance and illiteracy, it is very important to educate the girl child and not see them as a liability. Our government must find ways to enhance the condition of the weaker section of our society and take up a more proactive role in legislation and form stringent law.
1 It is important to notice that the devadasi practice is understood by different names in several places. for instance, devadasis are called Muralis in Maharashtra, Basavis and Muralis in Andhra Pradesh, and Jogatis and Basavis in Karnataka.
2 Aparimita Pramanik Sahoo, a quick History of Devadasi System, OrissaDiary (July 18, 2006
3 Sections 372 and 373 of the Indian Penal Code were amended to declare “the practice of dedicating girls for the ultimate purpose of engaging them in prostitution as illegal.”
4 http://maharashtracivilservice.org/cms/ downloads/515a978a94745.pdf.
5 providing a summary of the Maharashtra Devadasi Act
By Ruponita Nag