(INDIA) It is a fact that women of India have been the victims of exploitation far a long time in different fields in their life, both physically and mentally. There are several cases of sexual, as well as moral, abuse which are very often highlighted by the media, and a lot of those also remain unexplored. Although, such malpractices to women are not of recent origin, its trace is found in the history of ancient India. While identifying its key reasons, it is realized that the long run supremacy of male over female in all respect in the patriarchal society in India is highly responsible for arresting the empowerment of women. Consequently, they are being trafficked for sex, heckled at workplaces and tortured in family and society.
Imagine living in a society in which you are judged by your station in life, determined by your birth, rather than by your individual worth or accomplishments. As a member of the lowest rung of society, you can barely afford food for your wife and two daughters.
When your wife becomes ill after giving birth to a third daughter who, unlike the son you had hoped for, will be an unbearable financial burden, you have only one choice: You must dedicate your daughter to the goddess as a devadasi, a temple prostitute. By dedicating your baby, you have given her a profession and a way to obtain food for her family. Perhaps the goddess will now show favor to your family, sparing your wife’s life and filling her womb with the long-awaited boy child. Your daughter’s sacrifice is small compared to your entire family’s alternative fate of starvation. If her body is the price the goddess asks, it must be paid.
In India, the devadasi system, a Hindu practice of temple prostitution, has existed for more than 5,000 years. The word devadasi literally translates to “god’s female servant.” Parents usually choose to dedicate their daughters as infants to the goddess Yellamma, in hopes of gaining the goddess’ favor or easing a financial burden.
Once dedicated, a girl is considered to be married to the goddess and is never allowed to marry a man. When the girl reaches physical maturity, she is forced to begin her life as a prostitute.
“Since 1982, the devadasi system has been banned by the government of India and Karnataka,” says Joseph Paul, a Christian pastor ministering among devadasis. “But there are underground practices – nobody knows how they practice and how they dedicate.” In the state of Karnataka starving families dedicate hundreds of girls each year to the goddess Yellamma. The children are forced to begin a life of prostitution at age 11 or 12.
From the very beginning, they’re being exploited as babies then, when they hit maturity, their bodies are exploited by men. Even when their bodies are no longer desirable to men, they are still exploited and abused because that stigma is on them. They can never escape from it. It’s a trap that they’re stuck in; it’s a living hell that they’re experiencing.
Devadasis come mainly from impoverished families of the untouchable’s class, the lowest rung of Hindu society. They are used and exploited by men. Sometimes they receive compensation for their services, sometimes not. A vulnerable population, the devadasis are susceptible to HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
“Not only are we shunned because of our profession, but we’re shunned by society because of our status,” Asha, a sexworker says. They’re the lowest of the low. They’re not even in the caste system – they’re outside the caste system.
It is not only Asha, Anitha, Jaya, Aishwarya and Pakhi but there are thousands of innocent females in the brothels who are judged over a period of time by the Priests, worshipers and the babu’s (land-lords) and is being exploited. To better understand the article, I’m posting Sarah Harris’ documentary on the Devdasis. Source – Vice.
Prostitution is widespread in India, although it is currently a contentious issue. In 2007, the Ministry of Women and Child Development reported the presence of over 3 million female sex workers in India, with 35.47 percent of them entering the trade before the age of 18 years. Human Rights Watch puts the figure of sex workers in India at around 20 million, with Mumbai alone being home to 200,000 sex workers, the largest sex industry center in Asia. The number of prostitutes rose by 50% between 1997 and 2004.
One of India’s most striking characteristics is its material poverty. An estimated 40% of India’s population lives in poverty. This means that almost 400 million people cannot meet basic survival needs like food, clothing, and shelter. This is an overwhelming, almost unimaginable statistic. Poverty does not create imbalances in gender and sex. It only aggravates already existing imbalances in power and therefore increases the vulnerability of those who are at the receiving end of gender prejudice. In a patriarchal set up, the section in families in societies that is affected is women and girl children.
Caste wars, political strife, domestic conflicts through their manifestations and repercussions reflect strong gender prejudice against women. Violence against women, assault and rape on women are not individual sexual or physical crimes. It has become a tool of a political statement for aggression and gender persecution, which amply reflects on the degree of human degradation and commercialization of women in the eyes of the state, community, and society.
Indeed, such poverty belongs to an almost surreal world in which only the “wealthy” are certain to meet basic needs. Desperation seems to characterize the lives of India’s poor. This desperate poverty is often cited as the root of India’s growing prostitution problem. In some cases, a woman may prostitute herself in order to obtain material possessions she could not otherwise afford.
All though loads of organization is formed to uplift the face of women in Indian society yet the feminism fall prey to the male dominant society. Education and some governmental and non-governmental organization are playing vital role in eradicating the system but I doubt it would ever make sense as, if one devdasi is educated there are other 100 devdasis who are forced into this evil practice and more common among them are the children below 12 years.
Who is to be blamed? The mother who gives birth to a daughter? A family who is forced to dedicate their daughter to the evil practice? Or the society who has left no other options rather than to choose this profession? A trauma that shall always be a part of Indian society.
Arshpreet kaur Ahluwalia is an upcoming Indian television and International journalist and columnist, presently working as Intern reporter with IBN7,A network18 group in India. A Journalism and Mass Communication graduate from Punjab, Arshpreet has won ‘writer award’ for trendsetter and ‘Punjabi screen magazine award’ for writing ‘Why do I hear such voices?’. for the Channel IBN7, her main reporting topics include crime, politics, writing about society, terrorism, religion, talk shows and debates with known guest speakers around the world.