Devdasi is the institutionalized practice of exploiting women by religious organizations and temples. These women who are victims of this practice are mostly from untouchable, lower caste and other socially marginalized groups. Devdasi literally means God servant. Devdasis serve priests, high caste men and feudal lords. The priests who have a strong hold on the mind of innocent people. They use their power to religiously sanction prostitution under the name of “sacred tradition.”
Devdasi: God Servant
In this tradition, pre-pubertal girls are given away or married off to a local village deity. From this point forward, their lives become the property of the local temple. They are not allowed to marry or have children. These young girls and women serve the temple, its priests and the local feudal lords in every manner. It is considered a Devdasi’s absolute duty to comply with this. The service she provides to the priests and other men is considered equal to serving God. She has no way out. Even if she were able to physically escape, society would not accept her.
First Steps to Combat the Devdasi System
The first legal step to outlaw the Devdasi system dates back to the 1934 Bombay Devdasi Protection Act. This Act pertained to the Bombay province as it existed in the British Raj. The Bombay Devadsi Protection Act made dedication of women illegal. According to this act, marriage to a Devdasi was to be considered lawful and valid. Children from such wedlock were to be treated as legitimate. The Act also laid down grounds for punitive action against any person found to be involved in dedications, except the woman who was being dedicated. Those found guilty of such acts could face a year’s imprisonment, a fine, or both. The 1934 Act also provided rules, which were aimed at protecting the interests of the Devdasis. Whenever there was a dispute over ownership of land involving a Devdasi, the local collector was expected to intervene.
In 1947, the year of independence, the Madras Devdasi Prevention of Dedication Act outlawed dedication in the southern Madras Presidency. Several legislations strengthen the penal provisions that were previously available under the 1934 Act. The maximum punishment was increased to three years imprisonment and maximum fine was increased to Rs. 2000. If the guilty was found to be a parent or guardian or relative of the dedicated woman, the penal provisions are even stronger. Imprisonment in such a case can extend up to five years with a minimum term of two years and the fine can be up to Rs. 5000, with the minimum fine being Rs 2000.
(This last section cited from Wikipedia)
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