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September 2021
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Columns
Dreadful and Despising Life of Indian 'God-Servants'
 
Devadasis are merely sex slaves or child prostitutes dedicated to temples when they are as young as eleven or twelve. They are considered as given to a Temple goddess, Yellamma, and almost from that day onwards, are abused by men. Once offered like this, a girl is forced to live the rest of her life in misery as a prostitute and submit her body to all males who want her. It is her fate. Almost all Devadasis belong to the underprivileged and despised Dalit castes. The Devadasi prostitute life is considered a holy ritual and one cannot escape from it.. The loathful Devadasi practice still prevails in parts of India's states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh

"Mother, who is our father?" is a question repeatedly asked by Veena, Gauthami, Panchami, Sulochana and Latha to their mother, Droupathis; a Devadasi in Sidhanoor. But she cant answer her daughters, since a mother cannot tell them that each of them had different fathers who perhaps were not exactly known to her either.

In Karnataka there are more than one hundred thousand such children who don't know who their father is or cannot say so openly. At school, in the father's name column, they write their own names-adding 'Devadasi' in brackets. 'Devadasi' is in itself a title here meaning an illegitimate child born through prostitution and very common in Karnataka school records. Three or four children of a single Devadasi generally study in the same school; their fathers are different but they all have the same address being that of their mother.

Kanakamma a native of Nilkunda village of Devanagare District does not have a father in her school records. The same is the case with her siblings, Arjun and Chithra. Parvathamma from Sindhanoor village of Raichur has three children, namely Sulochana, Savithri and Sarani. They too are in the same plight. Parvathamma keeps mum when somebody asks about her children's paternity.

The only two options for Devadasis to bring up their illegitimate children are prostitution or begging. They bear children in early adulthood. Many such children die early because of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV. Meenakshi from Maski village of Yechuri says ' We live in the midst of slur and mockery'. Classmates frequently used to taunt her, asking ' Who is your father'. "I stopped my studies in class 8, a day one of the teachers ridiculed me with this question" she said. Her mother, Gowri, and Parvathamma, her grandmother were Devadasis. Meenakshi does not know where her mother is. Gowri left her and went away with her siblings. Villagers believe she went to Mumbai- meaning she would most likely be a prostitute somewhere in the infamous Red Street of Kamathipuram.

Even if Devadasis know their children's fathers, they never reveal this. So when they die, their children became orphans. The number of Devadasis in Devangare, Raichur, Devanagare, Koppal, Bellari, Bagalkota, Darwad, Gudhak, Bijapur, Vijayapuram and Gulbarga of Karnataka have not been accurately counted. However, the National Human Rights Commission's 2013 survey indicates at least 46,660 Devadasis here, each having two or three children.

Conversion of girls into Devadasis is a pompous practice undertaken on Magha Purnima (Sacred Full Moon) nights in the Yellamma temples of Saunthathi in Belagavu and Uchangidurga in Davengere; the major places
where this ritual is performed. The Saundatti festival, also known as the Yellamma Devi Fair, occurs on several occasions from October to February every year, with the girls given in dedication from November
onwards. Parents choose a day convenient for them and considered auspicious. Even though the Supreme Court imposed a ban over this custom in 1982, it is still quite prevelant in Karnataka's interior villages.


A nun from the Sisters of the Cross of Chavanod in Muski, explained about activities that their congregation was taking measures to relieve Devadasi women from their struggles and rehabilitate them. The congregation runs a school and hostel in Lingusur Taluk of Raichur with Maski as their headquarters. The nuns provide support to Devadasis and their children, among whom the number of HIV patients is
also increasing. These women and children are rejected and thrown out by the villagers. The congregation extends support to such women and children; providing the children education and the women-opportunities for self employment.

These women were exploited by the instilled belief that Devadasis must remain unmarried. Thus villages got saturated with unmarried mothers. When pimps discard them, they turn to begging or migrate to places like Sonagatti and Kalighatti in Kolkata and Kamathipuram in Mumbai and become prostitutes. In old age, they surrender to death without anyone to care for them.

Most parents know that they are not really offering their children as religious helpers of the temples, but turn a blind eye to this fact. Devadasis are called eternal brides. The offering and dedication to
diety process involves an elaborate ceremony where the girls are dressed as brides. Five rules are whispered into their ears : to follow all their lives, to feed the hungry, to not lie, to keep secrets, to give water and to give shelter.

Dedicated to the goddess Yellamma at the temple in Saundatti, when Chandana was 10, she cannot marry a mortal. When she reached puberty, the Devadasi tradition dictated that her virginity be 'sold' to the highest bidder. After she gave birth to a daughter at 14, she was sent to work in the red light district in Mumbai. Chandana regularly sent money home, but saw her child only a few times in the following decade. Now aged 28 and having HIV, she has returned to her Kappalguddi village in Belgaum, weak and unable to work. 'We are a cursed community. Men use us and throw us away'- Chandana says.

In Kanakagiri village near Bellari,. Seethamma was met. She had been offered to the Goddess at the age of 8 in Huligama temple. That very night, her fate was to sleep with her maternal uncle and has since
been sexually abused by so many. Today she is a 40 year old HIV patient who lives cursing herself. Her daughters, Yasodha and Radha, are also Devadasis offered to Yellamma.

The initiation of Devadasis are done during Pournami (full moon) nights where thousands of devotees are present at the temple premises. The girl who is offered has to take rounds around the temple in the
nude. She then takes bath in the river or pond near the temple and clads herself with neem leaves. Then she proceeds to the idol of Yellamma.

After her bath, she wears a yellow dress, ornaments, green glass bangles and moves to the temple steps, where the senior Devadasi women sing songs of blessings. They sprinkle grains on her forehead and she holds a small branch of neem in her mouth. After the ritual she stays in the crude cottage provided by the temple."

Durgamma still remembers the Magha Purnima day 30 years ago, when she just 10 years old and dedicated as a Devadasi at Hampanal village in Yechoor and was first destined to sleep with her uncle. She now has 6
children, including 4 daughters. She raises her children by begging. Her community insists that the first child should be a male. If a female, she will unquestioningly have to be offered to Yellamma, which would be pleasing to the Goddess- is their belief. Jayamma of Belgaum is another mother of 6 children. Hardly forty, she underwent abortion 8 times. Two of her children are mentally retarded.

She does not get any pension as she has is not yet forty-five. Without any income source, her life is a hell. Death during child birth and infant mortality is very common in this community and mostly due to malnutrition. Uligami the Devadasi of Honnali village of Alanth Taluk laments "Our birth and death are both cursed ones" She is keen that at least her grandchildren should not step in to this cursed custom." Census reports estimate over 6000 Devadasi children in Gangavathi Taluk of Koppal District and 5000 in Bemmanahalli of Bellari district.

These innocent fatherless children are cursed and rejected everywhere; in schools, their locality and even in their native homes. The majority are without mothers and no father in their school records and thus wont get any governmental benefits. There are now more than one lakh such girls and young women who live cursed lives and have helplessly fallen in to prostitution as a result of this appalling custom, still prevalent in the 21st century.

Reji Joseph


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