By Women Without Borders
It is called religious or ritual servitude, but the name is a mask for one of the most heinous forms of female slavery today.
“It’s hard for us to understand the depths of the exploitation these women suffer, the brokenness of their spirits. A devadasi is a dalit [untouchable], so she’s low on the social scale anyway. But when she’s a devadasi she’s worth nothing: the lowest of the low.” –Dr. B. D’Souza, Indian pediatrician
The practice was legally abolished over 150 years ago, yet poor parents in southern India and Nepal continue to give away daughters as young as five years old in “marriage” ceremonies to Hindu gods or temples. Besides ridding themselves of unwanted girls, families hope their offering will appease the deity and bring them favor.
In the past such girls, sometimes called devadasis or jogini, served as sacred temple slaves or dancers. Once they reached puberty they were expected to provide sexual services to any males who were their social superior. Missionary Amy Carmichael dedicated her life to the rescue and care of hundreds of these children.
Today’s temple slaves are exploited until the priests tire of them, then they are sold to the highest bidder as child concubines. Eventually the girls (and any children they conceive) are turned out on the streets to survive any way they can. Still “married to the gods,” they are not allowed to marry anyone else. Most are forced into brothels, their distinctive bangles and pendant necklaces declaring their original status as temple prostitutes.
Today there are an estimated 70,000 Devadasis in the state of Karnataka alone and 250,000 in all of India. However, women’s groups are campaigning against it and some Christian organizations like Mission India and IMB Missions [imb.org] are offering alternative lifestyles to freed girls.
For more, go to Women Without Borders. Also, read the book Servants of the Goddess by Katherine Rubin Kermorgant for a more in-depth look at devadasis. The website http://servantsofthegoddess.com/tohelp.shtml will also tell you how you can help, and Milaap is a way to give former devadasis a way to support themselves. https://milaap.org/campaigns/help-former-devadasi-women-start-independent-businesses