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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Devadasi’s: Young Indian Temple Prostitutes

By James Varghese
Special Correspondent in India for ASSIST News Service

KARNATAKA, INDIA (ANS) -- India is a land of old social traditions and religious practices and one of oldest religious practices of Devadasi system do still prevail in this nation.

A small girl made as a Devadasi

“Devadasi” literally means God’s (Dev) female servant (Dasi), where according to the ancient Indian practice, young pre-pubertal girls are “married off”, “given away” in matrimony to God or a local religious deity of the temple.

If we take the beautiful country road from the city of Dharwad in Karnataka state, you will reach a small temple village of Saundatti. It is in this village that the Devadasi tradition is still practiced. Here young girls are, every year, secretly dedicated to this Goddess Yellamma.

These girls are not allowed to marry, as they were supposedly married to the temple. She “serves” the priests and inmates of the temple, and the Zamindars (local landlords) and other men of money and power, in the town and village. The sexual satisfaction given to these men is considered akin to service of God. The Devadasi is dedicated to the service of the temple Deity for life and there is no escape for her. If she tries to escape, the society will not accept her.

An adult Devadasi

The Devadasi system is an institutionalized exploitation of women, an exploitation of Dalits (the lower class of untouchables) and also a religious sanction given to prostitution of helpless economically and socially deprived women. It is also the glorification of humiliation of women.

The Devadasi system is a form of open prostitution. Poor people dedicate their daughters to the system in the name of appeasing the gods.

When the girls become Devadasi, they are forced to sacrifice their virginity to an older man. The money, Devadasi’s earn, goes straight to their parents who often act as pimps for their daughters. Once girls are dedicated the course of their lives is decided. They can never marry, never have a family life.

According to the report published by the National Human Rights Commission of the Government of India, in modern times, the tradition has become associated with money-making sexual exploitation practice in India. The report says further that after initiation as Devadasi’s, women migrate either to nearby towns or other far-off cities to practice prostitution.

Renuka Temple for the godess Yellamma where this Devadasi system first began

According to the survey study conducted since 1990, 45.9% of Devadasi’s in one particular district were prostitutes. The Devadasi system is still flourishing in parts of India, especially in South India and specifically in the states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Ironically, these are the techno-savvy states now synonymous with Indian progress in the global market.

There are more than 450,000 Devadasi’s trapped in this form of prostitution, deified and glorified by the heinous religious sanctions.

According to the 1934 Devadasi Security Act, this practice is banned in India. This ban was reinforced again in 1980s but the law is broken every day. Poverty and “Untouchablity” contribute to the persistence of this terrible practice. The laws are:

Anyone found guilty in helping a girl to become a Devadasi or even attending the ceremony is liable to get 3 years prison term and would be fined up to maximum Rs 2000/- (USD$44)

Parents and relatives would be fined up to maximum Rs 5000/- (USD$111) if they are found guilty encouraging the girl to be dedicated

But these are just few of the preventive measures. At times the arm of law falls woefully short in protecting the unsuspecting girls. As a result, the Devadasi tradition is still prevalent in many parts of India.

According to a survey carried out among 375 Devadasi’s by the Joint Women's Programme, Bangalore, 63.6 per cent of young girls were forced into the Devadasi system due to custom, while 38 per cent reported that their families had a history of Devadasi’s. Nearly 40 per cent of them join the flesh trade in cities and the rest are involved in their respective villages. A Devadasi, in a way, is considered “public property” in the village.

Devadasi system perpetrators who perform the ritual of making girls into a Devadasi

The overwhelming majority of Devadasi’s (95 per cent) earn less than Rs 1,000 (USD$22) a month.

The Devadasi’s are spread all over India and lead intolerable lives. It is a sad thing to know that these girls continue to face discrimination and indignities on the basis of caste, remain politically powerless and suffer from acute poverty, oppression and exploitation. They run high chances of acquiring sexually transmitted diseases. Even today young girls are pushed to roads of “sacred prostitution”.

James Varghese speaking to the India media
after a rescue

The Indian Rescue Mission, an organization that I had the privilege of founding, works for the rescue of minor girls forced into prostitution and offers rehabilitation, has been offering a helping hand for these innocent girls who are ignorant of this evil system and thus become a prey to the people who are “lords of power and money”. And they use these girls as they wish.

Don’t you think we need to bring in a change in this land to stop this evil practice and get these girls rescued from prostitution?

Join with us to combat Human Trafficking and Child Prostitution in India. You can do so by signing a petition. Just go to:

You can also visit us at

To know how you can help IRM contact us at:

James Varghese is a reporter for Masihat newspaper in India, and is also a freelance journalist working for ANS.

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