Jogini or Devdasi: Practise of Sex Slavery in the Name of God and Religion Practise!
India is a land of diversity. It has diverse religions and cultures, which further gives birth to diverse beliefs and practices. Since ages, these beliefs and practices find an association with eternal compassion. They created and followed these beliefs as a respect for the nature in which they dwell.
The religious beliefs and systems of the Vedic and other religions helped in continuing ecological harmony. One such belief is the Jogini or Devdasi, still prevalent in some parts of India.
Devadasi, which in Sanskrit means “deva” means god or goddess, and "dasi” means servant. Devadasi, as the name suggests, means god's servants. The system initially started as marrying the girls to a deity.
Traditionally, after the girl had attained puberty, she had to worship herself to the god. These women took care of the temple and the rituals. They had to learn and practice various Indian art forms like music and dance.
They had to perform in temples in front of royalty. They would earn rewards in the way of gold and land. The culture originated from the reigns of the Cholas, Chelas, and the Pandya. The devadasis had held a high social status in the society.
Slowly the system was not just learning different art forms. Over time, the devadasis had to engage sexually with the temple patrons. This is how the devadasis' practice transformed from holding a high status in ancient times, shifted sex slavery, and child prostitution.
In modern India, a devadasi is similar to a sex slave. This system is mainly followed in the districts of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra in India. Different names like Jogini, Mathamma, or Mathas in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The term used in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and Mathangi in Maharashtra is Devadasi.
Following this system, the families force their girl child to become a devadasi. This is mostly done as the girl is their only source of income. Most of the devadasis are Dalits, who belong to the Valmiki and Madiga castes. These two castes are the ones seen to be the most underprivileged castes of India.
The villages exclude these families due to the social stigma of castes. The villages do not allow them to enter their premises. Due to this, they do not receive a proper education, and they have no stable income. The parents and the families follow belief because of the unfortunate treatment they receive from society. They force their daughters to worship as devadasis in the hope of earning income.
How Does The Girl Become A Devadasi?
The girl's dedication is to the goddess "Yellamma” also known as Jogamma, Renuka, or Holiyamma. The process takes place during the Saundatti festival, which happens from October to February. This festival is also known as the “Yellamma Devi Fair.”
The parents inform their community after the girl attains puberty as the Jogini cannot be “used” till puberty. This practice takes place so that they can find someone for the girl. The priest of the temple, where a girl's dedication to the deity takes place, engages with her first. Later, the men who "use" the "Jogini” pay her.
Legal Measures Taken Against The Practice?
Well, yes, there are legal measures that the government took to stop this practice. In 1947, there was a Madras Devadasis (Prevention of Dedication) Act, introduced on October 9. Under this law, the devadasis had a legal right to marry.
It made it illegal to dedicate girls to Hindu Temples. After the introduction of this law, some of the devadasis were against it. They considered themselves as “sophisticated” rather than prostitutes. This act was not that strict, and prostitution continued in south India.
But there were many stricter laws that different states had passed namely,
The Madras Anti-Devadasi Act- August 14, 1956
1957 Bombay Protection Act which was an extension of the 1934 Bombay Devadasi Protection Act
1988 Andhra Pradesh Devadasi (Prohibition of Dedication) Act.
Does This Practice Still Exist?
Even after the several laws and bans proposed, it is awful that the tradition of Jogini still exists in some states. It is alive and prevalent in South India. According to the National Human Rights Commission, around 450,000 Joginis in India, out of which 80,000 were from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
The young girls live in temples. The people treat them as “public property.” What was as a respected cultural practice, is now attached with a stigma. It is deeply rooted in religious superstitions, the caste stigma, gender inequality, financial status.
Shyamala Devi and Jogini
You might be wondering who Shyamale Devi is and her relationship with India's traditional Jogini system. Shyamala Devi is an activist who is from a family of “Joginis.” She started the Sahaya Jogini Welfare Society, which is a Rehabilitation Centre for women.
Shyamala Devi is a part of the movie “Veerangam” directed by Vemuganti. The motive of the film was to spread awareness about the matter. Despite the laws passed, the practice continued in the name of religion. Shyamala plays herself in the movie.
Unfortunately, the ritual continues to exist in regions under different names in the name of religion.
The girls face many health issues due to this practice. They are more prone to HIV, AIDS at a very young age. Girls have no choice but to become devadasis at an age as young as 9. At this age, they do not even know about the harmful diseases transferred due to engagement in sexual activities.
The struggles faced by a devadasi is truly disturbing. The brutal chain of events that take place denies the women of her rights. The women face discrimination along with the denial of educational opportunities. The fact that it still exists is haunting.