BENGALURU: In the boondocks of Karnataka, there are reportedly around 80,000 women, almost all Dalits, who were “forcefully dedicated” to a life of prostitution before a temple deity at the raw age of 12-13 years in the presence of their mothers, most of who are former Devadasis, and other senior Devadasis. The state banned the social evil tradition under the Karnataka Devadasis (Prohibition of Dedication) Act, 1982, which was enforced in 1984.
“The ban only pushed dedication out of the temple premises to homes of these highly vulnerable girls from Dalit families, where dedications still happen, albeit clandestinely once a year on Bharatha Hunimme in February,” said T Ramanjaneya, Project Director, Sneha, a voluntary organisation working for advocacy and empowerment of former Devadasis and their children in Koppala and Ballari in North Karnataka.
During a visit to Hosapete in Ballari district early this week, this reporter met some former Devadasis, their children and people. Many people who TNIE spoke to, said on condition of anonymity that the dedications still happen, but at homes and under cover. “There was some information last year regarding dedication of two girls in the taluk. They disappeared after the information was leaked,” said a local who is privy to the information.
“Many a times, the families of these girls are complicit. They hide the girls. Some of them surface once they get pregnant,” added another source. NGOs like Sneha, in partnership with ‘Children Getting out of Devadasi System’ (GOOD), and supported by Terre des Hommes, the Netherlands, in India are “working to stop further dedication, and help in empowering women along with other groups,” said Vasudev Sharma of Child Rights Trust.
Resurvey of Devadasis may happen next year
The last government survey was done in 2008-2009 by the Karnataka State Women’s Deve lopment Cor porat ion (KSWDC) as per which there were 46,600 Devadasis in Karnataka. Another research conducted by Akkamahadevi Women’s University in Vijayapura and ‘Sneha’ in 2017 had found that the number of Devadasis could be double the estimated figures and had asked the government for a re-survey, which “may be conducted in the coming year,” said official sources.
Caught in the vicious and never-ending cycle of poverty, social backwardness, illiteracy and the obligation to fend for their families, Devadasis, from a young age of post puberty, spend their lives in forced servitude and fear that they would invite the wrath and curse of gods should they defy the dedication.
These women bear children through forced illicit relationships with men who stay with them, but don’t marry them. They live off these women and abandon them at their whim. In most cases, they go back to their legally wedded wives. Presently, 30,200 former Devadasis over the age of 45 are covered under the government pension scheme. They get Rs 1,500 per month through direct benefit transfer (DBT). (Names of former Devadasis have been changed to protect their identities)