Devdasis have been present for centuries, however the law dismissed the tradition and made it illegal. But has it really been abolished?
When Mangala Amma turned 13, the whole village celebrated. She felt nothing less than a celebrity what with all the fussing and pampering. Her reaching puberty spelt salvation for the entire village. She was taken to a temple on the outskirts of Andhra Pradesh where a teeka ceremony was performed and she was asked to abide by the word of God. Up until then Mangala had been enjoying all the attention, but little did she realise that she was on the path to become a Devadasi or servant of God.
The Devadasi system was introduced in our country centuries ago. According to this practice, a pre-pubertal girl is married off to God or the local deity. As per tradition she cannot marry any other mortal because she is already married to the temple. While earlier these women were responsible for conducting various rituals and enjoyed a high position in the society, it gradually turned into something more deplorable. Devadasis are supposed to render their services (sexual and otherwise) to God’smen. And despite the practice being outlawed in India it continues to prevail in many South Indian states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
Even today, devadasis are inducted with great pomp and honour and their primary job is to keep the pandits and visitors satisfied – all for free.
But for people like Mangala Amma, this is no less than a nightmare. “I had no idea what I was in for. After my teeka ceremony, three women came to verify if I was indeed a virgin before declaring my ‘holy’ sacrifice.” She tries hard to push back her tears, and in a choked voice continues, “I was trained in Kuchipudi and I was to entertain men in public and private – with and without clothes.”
Today she is 32 years old, is an AIDS patient and has two children – a daughter and a son – whom she has not met ever since they were born. “There is not a single day that passes by when I don’t think about them. I wish them a happy life and I hope my daughter or no other woman is ever trapped in this kind of work, ever.”
Despite being unhappy in their situation it is not an easy task to rescue them. Kim Cuban, who runs an NGO for devadasis in Khammam district, says, “We have rescued over 130 devadasis in the last three years. Most of them don’t want to be rescued as they are made to believe that their services are for the greater good.” She goes on to add, “Most of these women are picked for their physical appearance.
They aren’t just used for sexual favours but also as unpaid labour. They are never paid and are given only one or two meals a day. They are not allowed to have babies and if by chance they do have any, they are forced to abandon them. They are also sworn to secrecy because this practice is illegal. They are threatened that they will be going to hell and they will be burnt alive if they ever disclose their practice to anyone.”
Law enforcement authorities choose to turn a blind eye to these women’s predicaments. When Postnoon tried to get in touch with the police to enquire about this notorious practice they remained non-commital.God, sex, slavery and suffering are definitely not what you’d expect to hear in one breath. But the reality continues to loom large. Will this ever end? May be, may be not.
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