A 10-year-old girl from Karnataka, who was forced into the Devadasi system by her parents and a local temple priest five years ago, was on Thursday rescued by officials.
A joint operation by Kalaburagi District Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Child Helpline and officials of the Department of Women and Child Development, rescued the girl, who now studies in Class 5.
According to reports, she was forced into the system five years ago and is a resident of a village in Kalaburagi.
As per the Devadasi system, which stands eradicated in Karnataka, a girl, generally from the Dalit community, is ceremoniously married to the deity. The girl is later sent with a man who promises to take care of her, but the system has exposed glaring cases of sexual abuse.
Members of Childline and the other officials rushed to the village on Thursday, after learning that efforts were on to send the 10-year-old girl with a man.
‚ÄúThe Dalit girl was pushed to Devadasi system about five years ago, but we came to know about it only today through the child helpline. We rescued the girl within two hours,‚ÄĚ Vittal Chikani, a social activist and member of the CWC, told The Hindu over phone.
The girl's parents and the priest Sharanappa (70) of Samavva temple, reportedly confessed to the crime. The priest even claimed that he has been performing Devadasi ritual for the past forty years and had inducted more than 1000 girls into being Devadasis. The girl's parents had agreed to make their daughter a Devadasi on the advice of the priest.
‚ÄúAccording to the parents, the girl was suffering from prolonged illness and the parents approached the temple priest who advised them to send their daughter as Devadasi. All arrangements were made and the priest tied mangalasutra to the girl and performed all rituals,‚ÄĚ C.V. Raman, Child Protection Officer told The Hindu.
While the girl's parents and the priest were taken to Kalagi police station, the girl was sent to a state home.
The Hindu reports that two primary school teachers, despite knowing about the incident, had kept silent. Ujjwal Kumar Ghosh, Deputy Commissioner said that this amounted to dereliction of duty by public servants and that they would be named in the FIR.
Devadasi literally means Servant of God and once the young girl is married off to the deity, she is sent with a man after she attains puberty. However, the girl is not married off to the man, since she has "offered" herself to the deity.
The Karnataka government set up ‚ÄėDevadasi‚Äô Rehabilitation project in 1991 to eradicate the practice in Belgaum district, where a survey showed that 3600 Devadasis were present.
Earlier in October 2016, a similar case was reported from Raichur district. In this case, the woman suffered physical disabilities and told police that she had voluntarily "offered" herself to the deity.
Prior to this in February 2016, the Supreme Court had taken note of the practice, that continues to be prevalent in many states. A Bench of Justices F.M.I. Kalifulla and S.A. Bobde directed all States and Union Territories, especially Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, to strictly enforce the Centre‚Äôs to check ‚Äúundesired and unhealthy‚ÄĚ practice of forcing young girls to serve as Devadasis, The Hindu reported in February that year.