BENGALURU: “My mother was a Devadasi and so was my grandmother. I don’t want to be one. I want to be a science teacher. But my uncle and my grandmother want me to become a ‘Devadasi’ though the government has banned this system. Children like me need help,” broke down 14-year-old Sandhya (name changed) of Bagalkot district.
She was in Bengaluru along with several other girls like her from five districts of Karnataka where they are still struggling to seek their rightful place in the world.
Devadasis are believed to be ‘servants of God’. Under this system, in several pockets of the State, especially in North Karnataka, girls are ‘sold’ to dedicated local temples as soon as they hit puberty. They are expected to undergo a 11-day purification ceremony following the onset of menstruation. From then on, they are expected to ‘serve’ God and are sexually exploited.
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“We hade to move out of our hometown Sangli in Maharashtra. My mother works as a volunteer with an NGO which is fighting against this system. She is trying to fund my brother’s and my education with whatever money she earns. My brother goes to an English medium school and I go to a government school. I don’t mind. At least I am getting educated. But what after 10th? I don’t think my mother can afford to pay fees for both of us,” said Mala (name changed) from Ballari district.
Her worry is that if she doesn’t get financial support from the state government, then her efforts to fight against the society might end and she may be pushed into child marriage. Mala and her other friends say former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s scheme to provide Rs 3 lakh for the children of Devadasis who get married, should instead be given for the completion of their education.
However, the insecurities about their future, sexual exploitation by either their mother’s partner, neighbour, a village head etc is deep-rooted in these young minds despite there being a law. Speaking to TNIE with tears rolling out, Lakshmi said, “Is it wrong to be born beautiful? Just because I am on the fairer side, my village head is forcing my parents to push me into Devadasi system. I am glad my mother is strong-willed.”
These children who are in the age group of 10 and 17 are now being rehabilitated by some NGOs like SNEHA Society for Integrated Community Development, Terre Des Hommes (TDH) of the Netherlands and a few others in five districts --- Ballari, Bagalkot, Koppal, Belagavi and Davangere -- in collaboration with District Child Protection Unit and District Legal Service Authorities.
Vijayapura: Two girls were to be made devadasis, local volunteers saved them.
Koppal: It was said there would be no rain if two girls of a particular school were made devadasis.
Bagalkot: Villagers sent back a prospective groom advising the family against marrying the daughter of a devadasi. Without the knowledge of villagers, volunteers got the girl married.
NO LEGAL HELP, SAYS SHOBHA
MP Shobha Karandlaje said that advocates should not provide legal services for the accused in such cases. “Advocates should display an indifferent attitude to such culprits and should not fight their cases, only then such crimes will stop,” Shobha said. However, Justice Nagamohan Das clarified that encounters shouldn’t be encouraged and every accused has the right to avail legal aid.