Devadasi Custom: An Age Old Practice Turned Into an Unholy Trap

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The backdrop of Devadasi Custom

Devadasi is an age-old custom prevalent in some specific parts of India. In this custom, some women are dedicated to Gods and so they become the property of the local deity.

Here, we see that the whole custom is full of difficulties and anomalies, where girls of specific lower castes were married off to the local deities and later they were only worshipped on specific days of a year. This custom is prevalent in large parts of South India, Maharashtra and Odisha.

Historically, they used to be respected as these women used to sing and dance in temple courtyards and please the Gods. In return, they used to get rewards from the zamindars. During this period, they used to get trained in 64 forms of song and dance and they would remain unmarried all over their life.

As time passed, temple artisans lost their status and zamindars tended to control the whole process of Devadasi which went downwards. When the British ruled, they were being equated with prostitutes and were forcibly asked to register as prostitutes.

Change in the Status of Devadasi

During the British period, abolitionists started movements to outlaw the Devadasi custom and it was finally outlawed in the year of 1988. The whole system and devadasis are known as Matangi, Jogini in different parts of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. But in the present day, it is a custom that has been corrupted in the hands of few people.

Now according to NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) data, around 4.5 lakhs of Devadasi exist in various parts of the country. In Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh on a specific day of the year young girls were dedicated to Yellamma deity.

They now generally belong to Dalit communities who were subject to abject poverty and find a way of living by dedicating their young daughter. These young girls were turned into prostitutes and were being taken care of by their patrons until they are fit for sexual consumption.

Devadasi Custom Turned into a Prostitution Trap

The custom of Devadasi has now turned into a full-fledged prostitution business where the parents act as pimps for their young children to make their life "a little better". The whole system is now to find a person from the village to take care of the family in return for sexual favours.

In normal times these people were not allowed to enter the villages but this system has now become the means of exploiting these poor people time and again. In the name of some age-old customs, some people are continuously victimised to satisfy some specific people’s desires.

Many villages in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka actively practice this sinful custom. Now, these devadasis live life in penury with no such proper maintenance given to them by their patrons and were left to die in poverty when they were not viable for sexual consumption.

After the dedication of these girls, there is no certain obligation for their patrons to take care of the family of the girl. The marrying off with the deity is just a for show ritual to legitimise these kinds of unlawful practises.

Many of these devadasis or so-called devadasi have many children as they are being sexually exploited by the whole village as they were not entitled to marry some specific man. 

Their children generally become raised with an unknown identity, some of them later become prostitutes in future due to the high incidence of poverty and lack of social affiliation. Devadasi women remain prone to sexually transmitted diseases and different kinds of venereal diseases.

They have to remain in poverty when the monthly help from their patrons goes away after a point of time. The whole article tries to signify how the status of some talented artisans has changed into mere sex slaves in this modern era. 

After the outlawing of this custom, the whole thing has changed into different forms that have made the lives of Devadasi difficult in different parts. 

Many NGOs are working to rehabilitate these people and around 45,000 to 2.5 lakh women are presented in this practice in different parts of South India- mainly Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. 

In the future, may these women come out of these dark compartments and see a new dawn in this country.

Written by - Bodhiswatta Mukherjee

Edited by - Ivanova

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