The word ‘Devadasi’ originates from two Sanskrit words- ‘Deva’ which means God and ‘Dasi’ which means female servant. So Devadasi is a girl who is dedicated for the service of God and hence has no personal life as such. Her mind, body and soul belong to the God and can never be possessed by any mortal human being.
What is Devadasi system?
The Devadasi system was popularly in practice in ancient India. In this system, pre-pubertal young girls were married off to the God or local deities of any temple. Since they were married off to the temple, they were not allowed to marry anyone else throughout their lives. However in this system, these girls became the property of the priest, other inmates of the temple and also local landlords and ‘Zamindars’. The service primarily meant providing sexual pleasure to the powerful cult of the society and there was no escape for the Devadasis throughout their lives. Even if they attempted to escape, the society never accepted them.
The Devadasi system was always and till date the institutionalized method of exploitation of women who belong to the poor, less powerful and sometimes lower class of the society. It was basically the religious sanction for prostitution of socially and economically challenged women in India. The priests who hold a special position of reverence and superiority in the Indian society cajoled and enticed the poor rural families to fall for the trap of miserable prostitution of their daughters. The ill-fated women who were trapped in the nexus of evil-minded powerful people and priests’ network were never allowed to live a normal and free life. They were abandoned by the society and there was no happiness, will or independence left for them in the mortal life. The only escape from the trap was death or an even miserable life after their youth is gone.
Where is Devadasi system operational?
Although the Devadasi system was much in practice in Ancient periods, it still exists in several parts of India. Ironically some of the much progressed states of India including Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have the Devadasi system running in temples based at remote rural parts. In 1934 Indian Government passed the ‘Devadasi Protection Act’ which was further reinforced in 1980. However the act and ban of the system is violated and evaded every other day as the pre-pubertal girls are sacrificed in the name of religion and God at the temples.
Some Facts about Devadasi system in India:
Although this practice is highly restricted to the untouchables and poor cult of the country, the approximate number of women trapped in the Devadasi nexus is more than 45000. The figure vividly showcases the plight and quandary of Indian women in this age of Internet, Progress and Prosperity.
National Commission for Women, India recently unveiled a report that showcases some shocking facts about the Devadasi system. More than 250,000 girls and women from the Dalit and untouchable group of the Indian society have been sacrificed in Karnataka and Maharashtra. They are compelled to enter this misery and most of them end up becoming prostitutes with no social or economical security. A survey conducted in Bangalore by Joint Women’s Programme revealed that of the 375 Devadasis, 38% entered the profession following their family traditions and 63.6% were forced into it. The scheduled castes in southern India like Samgars, Holers and Madars have the maximum prevalence of this system amongst them. Of all the Devadasis almost 92.5% have children and although many of them are associated with patrons, their children are not able to register their father’s name.
Are Govts doing anything to eradicate Devadasi System in India ?
Although the government has laws to protect the Devadasis in India, no significant measures are taken to eradicate the system from the society. As a matter of fact, it is only mass awareness and education that can help people overcome detrimental taboos that have been in practice for centuries. Women at the rural part of India should be provided with basic education, food and employment opportunity so that they can support themselves economically and live a respectable life in the society. States should put stricter laws in force and punish anyone who compels women to this religious prostitution. The country must show respect and care for their women and this is the only way to get rid of a detrimental practice like Devadasi system.