I was five when my mother started coughing blood. The episodic fashion of my mother’s coughs helped me a lot with math. It made boring counting interesting. Very soon the digits of my fingers would end but not my mother’s coughs. My father was always busy. He was the master of poker during the day and a man-whore who slept with cheap whiskey till the sun kissed him in the morning.
My maternal uncles exhausted all that they had earned to keep my mother’s soul intact in her skeleton but the hungry pyre chugged down all our savings and my mother. Then the day came when all the dough in slang and in literal sense vanished leaving a thin powdery line to survive on. The colours of our situation and my unwanted existence agglutinated into my election as the new, ‘Lord’s Wife’, something I thought, that only existed in my mother’s stories and our local story book called newspaper. My father insisted that I should add prestige to our ruined nest. It is always the females who have to undress their honour. I was left alone in the arms of my lord or rather lords. To them I was nothing but a commodity to cherish and it was my high earned prestige to serve them. My soul left my body at the nonage of my youth. Temples, behind the temples, nasty rooms and all the dirty places were my homes and their pleasure was my aim. But the scrapes of my soul which were struggling to breathe inside, screamed to my might to take stand or perish. My better half inside took toll over my weak side that day. I clearly remember pushing my God on the floor. The long dried adrenaline in my veins seemed to have found a new course altogether courtesy to the flow of my strength. I, Shanta Kumble took course of my destiny. ‘That day I became the ‘Devadasi’ of my dreams and aspirations’ .In a free country like ours there are still some people who live in a chained society the locks of which are with nobody and everybody. Devadasi means ‘servant of God’. These women were considered given in marriage to God. They were free to choose partners, from among married or unmarried men.
At present, Devadasis are nothing more than sex slaves or child prostitutes who are dedicated to temples when they are as young as four years old. Almost all of them are Dalits. The children are forced into becoming Devadasis by their own parents, because these girls are their only source of income in most cases as all of them are illiterate with no means for a stable income. They are ostracized because of their caste. Therefore, parents are therefore forced to act as pimps for their daughters in the hope of finding a means of survival.
Both before and after Independence, the government enacted laws prohibiting the dedication of Devadasis. It has been more than 20 years since the practice was banned across India. However, according to the NHRC in 2013, there are about 4,50,000 Devadasis in India. Given how economically vulnerable the communities involved here are, the laws are probably not going to be helpful as long as the attempt is just to criminalize and prohibit the Devadasi system. This is evident from the stark difference between the number of Devadasis being dedicated and the number of people who have been charged under the act. Instead, providing these communities with basic education and making them economically empowered, along with sensitization, would be the ideal way forward.
– Vritti Gulati, 4M