Asia-Pacific, India, Human Rights, Editor's Choice

The Curse of Being a Girl: The Devadasi Pratha Tradition in India

One fine morning when 10-year-old Anjali woke up, she was rubbed with turmeric and showered with Neem water. Feeling all neat and tidy, she was then given the first Sari (traditional dress of women in India) of her life and a tray full of tempting sweets to gorge on. Little did Anjali know the terrible fate which awaited her the next day hence. She, like thousands of other girls, was going to become a scapegoat in the religious muddle popularized by the name of Devadasi or Servants of God.

In southern India, young girls are married off to Yellamma, the goddess of fertility, and when she reaches puberty her virginity is sold off to the highest bidder. This blasphemy in the name of religion was outlawed by court ruling since 1988. But like every other evil which keeps on coming back, Devadasi system is still prevalent at large behind closed doors.

But Why Don’t the Devadasi Girls Protest?

To begin with, the girls who are sacrificed as Devadasi usually belong to the lower rung of the social ladder. Mostly from the ‘Dalit’ or untouchable sect, these girls are often considered as a burden by their parents. Basic education is something they cannot even imagine. Because had they been enlightened with education, they would have clearly said NO!

In a country where heavyweight propaganda is going on regarding ‘Women Empowerment,’ there still exist some people who would rather sell off their daughter’s flesh to earn their own sweet comfort.

‘I have three younger brothers. My parents said if I don’t earn money, my brothers can never go to school.’

‘I was the first one to be born in our family. So my parents said I am special and I belong with her, the divine goddess.’

The versions are endless. These misogynist parents who want to get their sons married to a perfect girl don’t give a dime about their own daughters getting raped and tortured time and again.

And sometimes it even happens in the family.

‘My uncle always had a soft corner for me. One day my parents who could not afford anything more than rice and vegetables suddenly organized a feast. They told me that my uncle will take care of me from now. They told me he will only hold my hand. But what he did left me sore and bleeding for two long days. I was 12 years old back then.’

What Does the Future Hold?

Some Devadasi who are brimming with youth would argue that their profession is fetching them more money than they could ever imagine. India, which has a higher percentage of male-dominated households where the wives get reduced to a meager Roti (Staple Food) making machine, these Devadasi’s are happy as they are getting to live their life on their own terms.

But for how long? That’s the question even they don’t have an answer to! But guess what, we do.

They will only be sought after by men for fulfilling their carnal desires as long as they are young. Once their face starts showing wrinkles, men will shift over to newer and younger ones. So what will become of them? Will they have enough savings to sustain themselves during old age? Will they ever have a family to lend them a hand? We guess not.

They will be demoted from being temple prostitutes to temple beggars. Bonded to the flesh trade for eternity, these Devadasi who cannot ever marry any mortal fall prey to AIDS and other forms of Sexually Transmitted Diseases every now and then. Some even end up taking their own lives. It’s like a quagmire, the more you try to escape, the more you get entangled.

When Marriage is Just a Dream

‘Whenever I see married women, I feel something crying inside me. How I wish I had a real husband, a real lover. Not like the ones I am forced to submit myself to daily,’ Laxmi said.

We heart you Laxmi.

Laxmi incidentally got impregnated during a recent intercourse. When asked whether she has decided on the child’s name, we could feel a chill running down her spine. She stared at us blankly for some time and then said – ‘It better not be a girl. I don’t want the same life for my child. But I am too poor to act otherwise. After all, nobody would want the daughter of a Devadasi as their Bride’.

About Tarunima Ghosh

Nature lover, full on romantic, voracious eater who cooks like your worst nightmare, fashion freak who creates a faux pas every time, globetrotter (only in dreams), mad about cats and dogs, obsessed selfie photographer – that pretty much sums up Tarunima Ghosh Laha in a nutshell. Nurturing her penchant for writing since toddling days, she has finally given in to her long subdued desire of becoming a writer by leaving a glamorous yet boring career in hardcore Finance.

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