A woman in Karnataka has alleged that her family and a man who promised to marry her, duped her and pushed her into the Devadasi system. On Monday, 22-year-old Sunita*, a resident of northern Karnataka, went to the police to file a complaint against Mahesh (46).
“Mahesh and I are from the same village. Six months ago, we began talking and soon, we fell in love. We also had a physical relationship. Mahesh told me he loved me and even I fell in love with him. It all happened very quickly,” Sunita tells TNM. A couple of months after their relationship began, Sunita found that Mahesh was married to two women and had four children.
“He had even lied to me about his age. He told me he was in his 30s,” Sunita says. “He promised me that he would marry me and that he would take care of me. As time passed, he took no initiative to marry me so I decided to call off the relationship and in the beginning of this month (August) I told him that I could not be with him if he did not marry me because everyone in the village would shame me for the relationship we had,” she recounts.
Mahesh then allegedly offered to marry Sunita and he also went to meet her mother Chandramma* (60). He told them that they had to perform a ceremony at the Yellamma temple in order for them to be married. But in the process, Sunita alleges, Mahesh convinced her family to push her into the Devadasi system.
Two years ago, two of Sunita’s four brothers died within six months of each other due to health issues. Mahesh allegedly told Chandramma that her two remaining sons would also die if he and Sunita got married. Chandramma, who panicked, allegedly told Mahesh that she was willing to perform any ceremony to keep her two sons alive. Mahesh then told Chandramma that Sunita had to be “given up” to God and be made a Devadasi to protect the family.
“I didn’t know that they had spoken about all these things. They told me that I had to go to the temple for the ceremony. I assumed that it was to get married to Mahesh. When we went to the temple on August 13,” she says.
Sunita’s 75-year-old maternal uncle, Kallappa, was the one who tied the beads around her neck, branding her a Devadasi.
“I protested a lot but Mahesh told me that it was a procedure to ensure that my brothers are safe. He told me that he loved me and would take care of me. I did not know much about any of these things until much later,” Sunita adds.
When she returned home, Sunita realised that she was not married to Mahesh but was in fact pushed into the Devadasi system. When she questioned Mahesh, he refused to marry her, because she is a Dalit.
“I was so shocked. I did not know what to do. On August 16, the taluk officer came to our house and arrested my mother and uncle. They said that my mother and uncle were involved in the conspiracy. It was only then I realised what had actually happened. I had trusted my mother and Mahesh but she only cared about her sons,” Sunita recounts.
Hours after Chandramma and Kallappa were arrested, Mahesh came by and asked her to never mention his name to the police. He, in turn, promised to bring her mother and uncle out of prison, Sunita says.
“I didn’t know what to do so I just waited. Mahesh and his uncle came by four days ago (Thursday). He offered me money and land. He told me he would give me anything but he could not marry me because I am a Dalit,” Sunita says.
She then approached a social activist in her village, Padiyamma, a member of the Devadasi Horata Samiti. As Sunita was initially skeptical about filing a complaint against her own mother and also Mahesh, she decided to sit down in protest outside Mahesh’s house.
“On Sunday, I sat outside his house in protest. My reputation was ruined. Everyone in the village was calling me a prostitute. The only way I could continue to live here was if he married me. I sat outside the whole night along with Padiyamma and other activists. It was raining heavily and yet, Mahesh did not come outside to address my concerns,” Sunita says.
Finally, Mahesh’s uncle came out and is said to have told Sunita that Mahesh was bitten by a rabid dog when he was young and hence, he could not step outside in the rain, as it would affect his health.
“Then he again offered to give me money. I was so disappointed. Finally, when nothing happened today (Monday) either, I decided to tell the police the truth about Mahesh,” Sunita alleges.
A case has been registered against Mahesh, Chandramma and Kallappa under relevant sections of the Karnataka Devadasis (Prohibition of Dedication) Act of 1982.
Sunita’s mother and uncle are out on bail and Mahesh is said to have paid the bond. With pressure mounting from her mother and Mahesh, Sunita says she fears going back home.