International Women’s day is being celebrated nationwide but are we really celebrating? We say women are in par with men, is this true? I still find women play the role of a scorpion under a slipper, devoid of freedom to live according to her choice. Do we have strong voice to condemn the horrendous practices of superstition and humiliation? I think not. In the words of our ministry, India has second biggest economy in the world after China and is a strong contender to achieve the “world power” status. Well, maybe, but we have lost our state of mind and our motive to life. In an age of progress and development, there still lies an undercurrent of tradition, religion, and superstition.
Though we live in the 21st century, we still seem to follow age old customs religiously. The legacy of “Devadasi” or “Prabhudevi” is carried on even till today, though being outlawed 1988. Its a taboo, that’s performed predominantly in the villages of Karnataka, Mudhol being the hub. Girls as young as four are married to the Goddess Yellama Devi during the Saundatti festival and are dedicated to the trade of religious prostitution. Deceived that the goddess will secure their lives forever, they are forced into sex slavery.
In medieval times, Devadasis were glamorous temple dancers and had a high social status. Conducting sacred rituals and offering royal dances to the goddess Yellamma were their duties. Over time, their status dwindled and today they are paid princesses or patrons of men and rich landlords.
Women are forced to make out with men of all sorts for a sum as little as Rs. 20 to a few thousands in order to make ends meet becoming the highest carriers of the deadly disease, HIV. Marriage is forbidden, but a Prabhudevi can conceive. Should it be a girl child, she is forced to follow her mothers’ footsteps. The most interesting fact is that, the industry is so female driven. Women recruiting women. Once these Devadasis get older they end up trafficking young girls and managing brothels at cosmopolitan cities.
As age catches up, she is destined to become a destitute, left to the mercy of the goddess. After being turned down for everything, the busy streets and unsheltered pavements become their only home until an NGO comes to their rescue. According to a study, there are nearly 23,000 (estimated) such Devadasis in the district. There are NGOs, started by former Devadasis trying to uplift this community but it seems to be a hard task as the custom is deep rooted.
This just shows that in the name of god, everything seems fair. In the name of custom, dignity and humanity are sacrificed. In the midst of this prejudice, lives have been lost and dreams have been shattered. Though the law governs, some colonies are let to rule and no extreme force can stop them.
Women are still bound by fear and tradition, no doubt. World power can be achieved when there is gender equality not only in cities but in these rural districts like Mudhol too. I hope the government abolishes this age old practice of the Devadasi system. As we strive for woman empowerment all across the nation, this superstition needs to come to end as well.