India is the land of old social traditions and religious practices and one of the religious practices of Devadasi is still prevailing here. Devadasi (Servant of God) originally described a Hindu religious practice in which girls were “married” to an idol (may also call God or Goddess) or temple. The Devadasi may be a religious practice but this has been changed in a form of ‘prostitution’ now.
The practice is still visible in the 21st century in India. In a village in southern India, women celebrate birth of a boy in the village they cannot be made Devadasis.
According to the BBC report, the parents give their children to serve Yellama, the goddess of fertility in this region. The temple of Yellama is thousands of years old and the followers are spread in different places in southern India.
Despite of the ban on the practice of dedicating young girls as devadasis since last 50 years, there are at least 25,000 devadasis in the state of Karnataka alone.
The followers of Yellamma take a swear to dedicate themselves, their spouses, or their children in the service of Goddess Yellamma to avoid to face hardships of life such as diseases, infertility, and dire financial troubles.
The followers hold a ceremony to initiate the Jogathis (female) and Jogappa (male) volunteers in the service of Goddess Yellamma. The new followers take bathe in three holy ponds and go to the head priest with other members of the family. The priests suggest them how to please Goddess Yellamma.
After that, they visit the Yellamma shrine on full moon days twice a year in a semi-annual ritual. They have to observe preferably total nudity or they cover their bodies with Neem foliage or scanty clothes.
In last decade the practice had become publicized events because of the presence of the oversexed youngsters and tourists outside the temple to have glimpses of nude and semi-nude human bodies.
Imla, a devadasi in her 40s said:
Being devadasis means we are slaves of the goddess. We have to visit this temple. We wear necklaces of pearls to show we are bound to Yellama. We give blessings and perform her rituals.
When the girls become devadasi, they are forced to sacrifice their virginity to an older man. The money, devadasis earn, goes straight to their parents who often act as pimps for their daughters. Once girls are dedicated the course of their lives is decided. They can never marry, never have a family life.
Shoba, 20, is one devadasi who has been a devadasi prostitute for seven years. She said that her parents auctioned her virginity to the highest bidder.
When the first man arrived I thought he was going to marry me. But he slept with me and then never came back. I realised this was now my trade. Every night I was sold to whoever paid the most.
According to the report published by the National Human Rights Commission of the Government of India, in modern times, the tradition has become associated with money-making sexual exploitation practice in India. The report says further that after initiation as devadasis, women migrate either to nearby towns or other far-off cities to practise prostitution.
According to the survey study conducted since 1990, 45.9% of devadasis in one particular district were prostitutes, while most the rest was dependent on manual labour and agriculture to live the life.
The Government of Karnataka in 1982 and the Government of Andhra Pradesh in 1988 declared the practice of dedicating devadasis illegal. However the practice is still prevalent in around 10 districts of north Karnataka and 14 districts in Andhra Pradesh. But still the curse is prevailing in India in the name of religious practice.