Many atrocities are committed against devadasis, and people assume that their daughters are also meant to become devadasis.

Ostracised and neglected Ktakas devadasi community appeals for better rehab policy
news Social Welfare Saturday, November 04, 2017 - 13:53

Krishnabai Annappa Talwar was 13 years old when her parents told her that she was a devadasi.

An oppressive practice of dedicating a young girl to a temple or deity, and then sexually exploited.

Krishnabai’s father showed her a person, and said that he would be her ‘protector’. When she turned to her parents after being repeatedly abused, they said that she must withstand everything because it was for the welfare of her family.

Three months later, she was pregnant.

Krishnabai is 33 now. Dedicated to goddess Yellamma at the age of eight, she did not know that her dream of pursuing higher education would never come true.

Recalling the day she got to know that she was a devadasi, Krishnabai says, “One day, a few men had come to our village, Vadrala, in Belagavi district. I did not know what was happening. My father showed me this man and said he will be my protector. I did not even know what the term protector meant.”

“I had five siblings and we were really poor. We did not have any food to eat. I used to go begging to various houses. If you are a devadasi, people in the village give you barley. We used to survive on rotis made from the grains. But I was not prepared for the abuse I faced at the hands of my protector. He would come home drunk every day and torture me,” she adds.

Things got worse when Krishnabai became pregnant. She didn’t know what being pregnant was, and only went to the doctor when she had been sick for three months. When she told her ‘protector’ about her pregnancy, the drunk 35-year-old man beat her and told her to abort the baby.

“I was really angry at the time. When he came to give me a second beating, I pushed him out of the house. The next day, when he came by in the morning, I told him that I never wanted to see him again. I told my parents that I wanted to keep the child and since then, I have been fending for myself. I realised that what happened to me was illegal only five years ago. I assumed this was where all girls from poor families ended up,” Krishnabai says.

The practice of dedicating a young girl to a temple or deity was made illegal after the Karnataka Devadasi (Prohibition of Dedication) Act was put in place in 1982. And yet, the practice is prevalent because either the women don't know about the ban, or those who induct them into the system pay no heed to the law.

Krishnabai is now a social activist who works with the Devadasi Vimochana Mahila Sanghatane. She works with other survivors, who spread awareness about the evils of the Devadasi system in Chikkodi Belagavi’s taluk.

An ostracised community

Exiled from their village, the families of these devadasis are still stigmatised by their entire village in some parts of Karnataka. Many atrocities are committed against them, and people assume that their daughters are also meant to become devadasis. Members of the village take it upon themselves to decide their fate, the affected women say.

Lakshmi Kallappa Sanadhi, a native of Jagalur in Davangere district, was offered as a devadasi when she was two months old. “My life has not been a happy one,” she says.

Lakshmi tried to protect her daughter, but it was in vain. “Every day was a struggle, and it got worse after seven upper caste men barged into my house in 2010, and said that my daughter too should be offered as a devadasi. When I refused, they spread lies in the village that my daughter was ruined. She was only 16 years old at the time,” Lakshmibai says.

Lakshmibai looked for potential grooms for her daughter, but every time the potential groom and his family members came for a visit, they went back after they found out that she is the daughter of a devadasi.

“The members of the village would say that she is the daughter of a devadasi, a sex worker. How can you expect someone to marry her? In 2013, one man from my village agreed to marry my daughter. She has a baby girl now, who is just a year old. Her husband abandoned her when she was seven months pregnant,” Lakshmibai says.

Just like her, several other devadasis from Koppala, Ballari, Belagavi, Yadgiri and several other districts of Karnataka are now demanding reservations in education and employment for their children.

“I am used to this kind of treatment from people. I have lived with it all my life. They (people in her village) do not even look at me. They move away when I walk on the streets and turn their backs on me. But why should children of devadasis suffer? We don’t want our daughters to be forced into this system. That’s why we are demanding reservation for our children,” says Kasturi Durgabai Keligeri, a 45-year-old devadasi from Yakshamba village in Belagavi district.

According to data provided by the Department of Women and Child Development, there were 46,660 devadasis in Karnataka in the year 2007. The department has not conducted a survey to find out the number of devadasis in the state since.

“Why will they conduct a survey? It is obvious that the number has increased over the span of ten years. If they do conduct a survey, which will reveal the truth, then it will reflect the failure of the government to protect these women, and will expose the laxity in the existing system of rehabilitation,” said Professor RV Chandrashekhar, a research advisor at the Marginalised Community Study Centre at the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), who is also working towards a comprehensive policy for the rehabilitation of devadasis.

“Devadasis receive informal help. There are no organised schemes for healthcare, education or any other benefits. Despite an amendment to the 1982 Act in 2010, there is no rehabilitation and resettlement of devadasis or their children. The punishment for those who abet in the practice is two years, but there so many districts where the practice continues. Despite repeated requests to the government, they have not come up with a comprehensive policy,” Chandrashekhar says.

A step forward?

In October, devadasis, their children and social activists from across the state held a consultation meeting with Social Welfare Minister H Anjaneya as part of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah's attempt to draft effective policies for the marginalized community.

Anjaneya said that he was ready to fight for the devadasis. “Children of this community are eligible to join any course. Be it medical, engineering or even civil services. They must be added as beneficiaries of schemes that children of other backward classes are eligible for,” he added.

Professor Chandrashekar said that NLSIU, along with the Social Welfare Department, will come out with a comprehensive policy for rehabilitation and resettlement of devadasis and their children by the time the winter session of the Assembly begins.

“We have the time and opportunity to ensure that a comprehensive policy emerges and we are working towards it,” he added.

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