“Amma I don’t want to leave home“- the young girl said crying.
“Don’t worry baby, Yellamma will take good care of you. Besides we too are here only. We will keep visiting you at the temple time-to-time“- the child’s mother said consoling her.
The 9 yr old Rina had just been told by her mother that she would be married off to Yellamma (the goddess of fertility)and will have to live in the nearby temple henceforth. Dedicating a girl child to the revered Yellamma had been a long followed tradition in the region, and it served many “purposes” of society as well as the family concerned. It was a kind of child marriage being done for a religious cause, but with an evil purpose in mind most of the times. Rina was a very fun-loving, chirpy, and innocent child. The thought of residing away from home saddened her a lot. She understood that her life will no longer be the same, but little did she realise how much her life is going to change forever….
5 days later the dedication (marriage) ceremony was being held with full religious rituals and procession. Rina was completely mesmerized by the wonderful preparations going on. She was loving the attention! She was being adorned with glittering bangles, gold ornaments and dresses which earlier she could only dream of ! Due to the eventful time, she had completely forgotten her sadness of being departed from her family. Later in the day, the dedication ceremony was completed by the temple priest and she was adorned with a bright necklace made of white and red beads. She felt happy that day. Everyone was celebrating around her as if it were a great occasion and she seemed to be one of the reasons of the celebration. The day passed by.
“Amma I want to go back with you” – Rina told her mother when she noticed her leaving for home. “No baby, you live here only. You will get good food here, and the priest will treat you well.” Her mother gave her some sweets to eat, and then left. She felt sad being departed from her mother, but very soon the temple priest and attendants started talking to her and somewhat sublimed her sadness.
The days to come made her realize how harrowing her life was becoming. She was made to learn devotional songs, learn dance, and was told to clean the temple arena. She hated this routine. She was missing her usual playful times with her friends in the neighbourhood, when she had nothing to worry, no strict routine to follow. But slowly she got used to the life in temple. Time flew by and she had spent 3 yrs serving Yellamma now. One day her mother came and invited her to come along home. She happily went home. That evening her home was very eventful. Lots of good dishes were being prepared and the village landlord had come to have dinner. She was so happy to see the exciting events unfolding. Little did she know that the coming night would be completely nightmarish, one which will change her life forever, one which will turn her life into a living hell!
She had her dinner and went to sleep beside her mother. She was only half asleep when she noticed some stranger’s hand on her body. She turned back in bed and was startled to find her mother missing from there. It was the village landlord instead! She was terrified. Her mind had gone numb. She screamed loudly for her mother, but no one responded to her repeated screams. She tried to leave the bed and run away, but the landlord overpowered her and made her completely immobile with his strength. She felt totally helpless. The devil showed no mercy and was all over her in no time. She profusely cried. Her entire body was aching. But more than her body, it was her mind which was completely shattered.
She went running to her mother, and screamed at her- “Why, Why did you do this !!” Her mother tried to hug her, but she ran away. It was 10 PM in night. She went running out of her house and started sobbing after stopping a few metres ahead. Her mother came from behind and hugged her.
“Please try to understand Rina, you are grown up now. It is our duty to serve goddess Yellamma. These all are our sacred traditions which have been followed since ages. I too have been through the same stage that you are going through. But this is how it goes. We all should bow in front of Yellamma and do everything possible to please her. Please understand that your sacrifice is very important for everyone’s happiness here“- her mother said trying to console her.
“I HATE YOU AMMA !” – Not convinced, Rina shouted at her mother, let go of her embrace and went a few feet away.
That night started a never ending trauma for her. A few days later, the landlord ordered her to come to his home. That landlord had “bought” her by bidding the highest amount, and she was now coming to terms with the life of a Devadasi. Same month the landlord’s brother took turn to rape her. She had nowhere to run, nowhere to go. When her mother herself didn’t support, whom else she could turn to! She was totally broken. She had become an inanimate object. Sometimes she even thought of committing suicide but didn’t act due to the thoughts of her 2 little sisters whose life had become dependant on the money earned by her. Time went by and she had a child now. A child which had no father! Now she realised why her mother couldn’t give any satisfying explanation when she would ask her about her father. Her mother also was a former Devadasi. She was now caught up in a never-ending vicious circle of Devadasi life. Sometimes she feared if she also will have to dedicate her daughter due to utter poverty. She used to shudder at the thought of her little daughter too becoming a Devadasi.
At the age of 20, she was sold off to a brothel owner in Mumbai. Her life had turned hell now. But she was living for her two kids now. She wanted to give them a better life, a life which would be far away from the life of Devadasis. One day, with the help of a local NGO, she managed to escape from the clutches of those savages. Thanks to that NGO, she got daily wage worker’s job at a construction site. The work was too tough and tiresome but she had decided, that no matter what, she won’t let her children go through the same trauma that she had been through…..
The story above is fictitious, but has stark resemblance to the real story of many Devadasis. For those who don’t know, “Devadasi” is a combination of “Deva” and “Dasi”, meaning “servant of God”. In olden times, there used to be a practise of some females devoting their entire life to the service of God, by cleaning temples, singing devotional songs and participating in traditional folk dances. So it was more of a art and religious nature. Also, Devadasis used to be seen with utmost respect. But with time, the tradition took quite an ugly turn. Girls started getting married off to Yellamma at very young age, and thereafter they were never allowed to marry anyone in real life (because they are already married to divine power!). Also, this started being followed in two stage- dedication and deflowering. First the girl would be dedicated at early age, and then when she reaches puberty, she would get deflowered- a horrendous act which earlier used to be done by head priests, but later started getting done by anyone who could bid more!). The life of such Devadasis obviously turned hellish. Men will look at them lustily, taking them for granted for sex. If they will try to start a new life, no one will accept them, and they won’t get employment. They will be looked down upon. Not only their, but even their children’s life will become destroyed. Ultimately what would happen, is that , due to poverty and social stigma, they will be forced to devote even their children! So in most cases, it turned into a hereditary thing. Daughter of Devadasi would turn into a Devadasi too!
This deplorable tradition mostly persists in the state of karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, by varying names. The tradition has been made illegal by law, so it is not carried out publicly and it is diminishing now. But despite the regulations, the practice still continues clandestinely. Most importantly, the ex-Devadasis find it hard to bring up their children. They are burdened with social stigmas, so they find it hard to make a living. Hence even the life of their children are endangered. Sometimes due to not able to bring up their children, they themselves make a decision to dedicate their own child(thinking that at least they will be able to survive)!
According to a 2006 data by National Commission for Women (source), the authority says there are 2.5 lakh “Devadasi” girls who have been dedicated to Yellamma and Khandoba temples on Maharastra-Karnataka border. This includes 16,624 from Andhra Pradesh, 22,941 from Karnataka and 2,479 from Maharastra. The Devadasi system is prevalent in 10 districts of north Karnataka and 14 districts in Andhra Pradesh.
The life of ex-Devadasi is pretty tough. But what I am more concerned about, is the lives of their children. This is where our role comes into play. We should help them settle down in society. They should be able to bring up their children properly, give them good education, so that this vicious circle ends. This is a two-pronged war. First help eradicate the superstition, and second, help the ex-devadasis come in the mainstream of society by helping them get jobs.
As can be seen on the website of Milaap, some ex-Devasis have turned entrepreneurs, and are trying to come back to mainstream society by starting their own business. We should try to help them through our monetary lending (howsoever small). Remember we talk about helping budding entrepreneurs, why not help such entrepreneurs who need our help the most? Also, helping them will not only help them live a respectful life, but also ensure help transform endangered childhood of their children into a good, bright life! So remember, it’s also about saving a child’s life. And won’t you come forward to stop another Rina from becoming a Devadasi!! How will you feel if another innocent gild child is forced to become Devadasi and goes in the hand of savages? So why not come forward save two lives with your small lending. Remember, the money you are contributing now, is not donation, it’s a loan, and will be paid back to you in a few months’ time. So please come, join my hands in helping Muttavva Belanki by lending a little.
Click on the link given below and make your contribution towards society,towards saving an innocent childhood. http://milaap.org/fund/muttavva-belanki-and-group/2034?&referrer_id=9029
A very detail report here- “Devadasi, Jogini and Mathamma in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh”