Devadasi: Some reports actually make sometimes headlines that the minor girls being offered to a temple in Tiruvallur, Tamil Nadu, and stripped naked have to glimmer fears which display the exploitive practices against those minor girls.

Once a headline made news about a peculiar temple ritual conducted in Tiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu which raised the question of the prevalence of the ancient Devadasi system still in India?

If you don’t know about Devadasi system then goes through this article in order to know the same.

Devadasi system is an oppressive practice happened with young women and girls and in Devadasi system the women and girls are being regarded as temple property but actually, they go through the sexual exploitation.

Reportedly, a ritual, reportedly conducted in the month of September, which involved five pre-pubescent girls.

The girls were dressed as brides and offered to the goddess Mathamma, and post the ceremony, they allegedly stripped naked by five boys. A similar ritual is also reported from the Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh, also.

What Is Devadasi system? Is It still being followed in southern India?

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Taking note from the media reports as well a complaint by an unnamed non-governmental organisation, the National Human Rights Commission said on 25th September that the news is directed to police in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu regarding these inhuman practices against the district magistrates of Chittoor and Thiruvallur to submit reports on the matter inside and within 4 weeks.

“The Commission has observed that the allegations made in the complaint, as well as a media report about the continuance of this practice, are serious in nature, and if true, these amount to violation of human rights including Rights to Education, Life, and Dignity besides Children’s rights,” the Commission said in a press release.

So, the question is arising that whether the Devadasi system is still prevalent in India, especially in the 2 southern states, or this is a new form?

Domineering system

Some reports claim that in the border districts of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu do actually follow the age-old orthodox practicing the Devadasi system. Here, girl children who are either ill or can’t be taken care by their families often offer to the goddess Mathamma, the chief deity of the Arunthathiyar Scheduled Caste community.

Afterward, the girl belongs to the deity Mathamma, and those girls recognized as Devadasis, and deem and eventually they consider as the public property.

What Is Devadasi system? Is It still being followed in southern India?

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Once the girls completed her puberty, the temple priest performs a ritual where she hitched with the deity of the temple, post this ritual she will not allow marrying any living person who is of flesh and blood.

“They perform dances during weddings and festivals and the youth of the village, belonging to any caste, are free to exploit them for sex,” said P Stephen, who has been working at the Integrated Rural Community Development Society for 27 years in Tiruvallur.

The National Human Rights Commission after searching this issue and they send a notice for which the officials have been going in the village of the 2 districts, enquiring whether the Devadasi system is still practiced there or not!

So far, as per reports no evidence or solid proofs are being found there. “Right now, as per our assessment, there is no system like that,” told by Senthil, the district child protection officer of Tiruvallur.

What Is Devadasi system? Is It still being followed in southern India?

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He added that there might be some religious customs, like the one the Commission took note of, which probably mistaken as Devadasi system. “Upon inquiry, we found that one family had conducted the ritual of dressing up their daughters as brides for the purpose of attaining puberty,” Senthil said. “The girls are back in their homes and continuing their education.”

In the meantime, villagers in Tiruvallur were upset to see how their religious ceremony is being portrayed in the media. Some even felt and said there culture has been humiliated. “I have been receiving calls from many villagers who are feeling disturbed by the visits of government officials,” said a local activist in Tiruvallur. “The Devadasi system has not been in practice for the past 15 years, yet the media show it still exists by twisting local customs.”

Old traces

A recent survey commissioned by the National Commission for Women, on the other hand, has confirmed the pervasiveness of the Devadasi system in the Southern state of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh also in Maharashtra, Odisha, and Karnataka.

This survey is the result of various researches done by so many NGOs and colleges, including the University of Madras.

“When we started out, we had only read about the Devadasi system in our school textbooks, but then we found that it still existed in many villages, including in Tamil Nadu,” stated by Priyamvadha Mohansingh, the assistant professor of criminology at the University of Madras, who research the same.

In Tiruvallur, near the border with Andhra Pradesh, another research claimed that the Mathamma system was widely practiced.

What Is Devadasi system? Is It still being followed in southern India?

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Told that her claims were at odds with those of government officials who had toured the area recently, Mohansingh said such “sensitive information” may not be revealed to a welfare officer who has only a few weeks to put together a report. “We hired people within the community to help us, and we spent a lot of time trying to understand their daily life,” she said. “Even a year or two was not enough.”

Even, in 2006 the National Commission for Women had found between 44,000 and 2, 50,000 Devadasis in India. Most of the Devadasis are coming from Karnataka, followed by Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. “Till date, these are the only official figures for the number of Devadasis in the country,” Mohansingh said.

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In spite of this that the southern states have legislated against the Devadasi system.

The Karnataka Devadasis (Prohibition of Dedication) Act, 1982, which is considered as the dedicating girls to a temple is illegal and gives Devadasis the legal right to marry.

In its annual report for 2015-16, the National Commission for Women stated:

“The tradition of marrying a woman to a deity – which initially started out as a religious practice of a woman devotee willingly tying herself to God and His temple, and taking the responsibility of a caretaker of sorts, has degenerated into a heinous practice wherein the ‘Joginie/Devdasi’, as she is called, is forced into prostitution to serve the local village elders of the higher castes.”

The report further said that over the past few decades this Devadaasi Practice had declined significantly; media reports and studies point to that “traces” remained across southern India.

What Is Devadasi system? Is It still being followed in southern India?

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As per previous sources of the Devadasi system, it is said that the women selected to marry the deity were highly respected. As per the 2015 paper in the UCLA Women’s Law Journal, said that the Devadasis system is from the 6th century CE and it is an age-old custom of the India.

As per the story a queen of the Keshara dynasty wanted to give honor and respect to the gods by marrying women trained in classical dance to the deity.

As per the author Ankur Shingal, the respected status of the Devadasis declined afterward the British rule and Islamic invention happened in our country.

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