Save the Girl Child

Description of the Project and Project Objectives:
Unique Feature of the Devadasi System in North Karnataka:

The Hindu scriptures worship woman as Mother God but sociologically the woman is oppressed in a male-dominated society. Married women are burnt alive for not giving more money at the time of their marriage. Some of them are killed because they have not given birth to male children. Lots of female foeticide is done at the time of pregnancy. According to the Indian law, temple prostitution is banned and yet the system continues with the support of vested interests of the rich and those in power. Literacy rate among females is far less than their male counterparts. It is because of the belief that ultimately women should work in the kitchen and should not go out of the house.

Devadasi is a female person of the low caste (Scheduled Caste) of Indian society dedicated to the goddess to live in the temple for life. From the sociological perspective, the incidence of DEVADASI is a social fact with religious significance in the seven districts of North Karnataka (Bijapur, Bagalkot, Raichur, Belgaum, Bidar, Gulbarga). It is difficult to trace its roots or origins historically. It is an oppressive system against Dalit women, though the Dalit male child is also incorporated into the system. According to the government data, there are 25,000 Devadasis. A child male or female is offered to the goddess (the goddess has different names in different districts of North Karnataka: Yellamma in Saundatti of Belgaum district, Huligamma in Raichur district). The male child offered is termed as JOGAPPA and the female child is termed JOGTHI. The reason for offering the child could be varied:

If a child is constantly ill, to protect the child from death, the sick child is offered to goddess Yallamma as a Devadasi. Satyavva was having epileptic seizures when she was small. No doctor could heal her. Her parents, so as to secure good health for Satyavva offered her to goddess Yallamma.

If a child’s hair becomes a rigid lump, then parents believe that it is a sign that the goddess wants that child to be dedicated to her. Life coping skills is another important aspect that needs to be continuously provided in developing their personality and gaining self-esteem and motivation.

In case a family has no male children, then the last girl child is dedicated to the goddess so as to propitiate the goddess to secure birth of the male child in the family. Ms. Yashodha was the seventh girl child in her family. Therefore her parents offered Yashodha to the goddess as DEVADASI to secure a male child for the family. Then the next child was born a male. Therefore the family and even Yashodha believes that the gift of her brother after her is the consequence of her being offered to the goddess.

When a family undergoes constant ill-health in the members, the female child is offered to the goddess for the good health of the family. The case of Renuka is pathetic. Renuka’s parents were falling repeatedly ill. To have good health for the parents her paternal grandmother offered Renuka, the granddaughter to goddess Yallamma without the knowledge of the child when Renuka was three years old. As a result her parents had good health. Renuka’s aunt (mother’s sister) recently sold her to a brothel in Mumbai for the sheer fear that if she marries, goddess Yallamma will avenge their family. Renuka had completed Pre-university studies and had also secured Kindergarten teachers training. She was determined to go against the system. But she was forced to take up commercial sex work.

The Life of a Devadasi:
The Devadasi should live in the temple helping the temple priest to offer worship to the goddess and in other activities of the temple. The person ins dedicated to the service of the goddess. According to the place there are different goddesses. In the district of Belgaum, goddess Yallamma is a very much known deity. In Raichur, goddess Hulgamma is very much known. Between these two goddesses Yallamma is most renowned in granting the favours to her devotees.
The Devadasi cannot marry. If she marries then it is believed that goddess Yallamma becomes angry and takes revenge on the family. It is believed that after the death of the Devadasi her soul will be reincarnated into another person of the same family. As a result, the Devadasi system is perpetuated for ages. This cultural and religious belief fits well with the oppressive Karma theory of Vedic religion and which perpetuates the caste system and as a result facilitates the oppression of Dalit women.
A Devadasi becomes the public property after she attains puberty. In the village she may become the property for sexual satisfaction for one person, usually the headman of the village or she may become the property of many in the village. She cannot refuse any person who comes to her for sexual gratification.
Human trafficking is a consequence of the Devadasi system. Some of the Devadasis are sold to the brothels of Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. Some continue to be sex workers in the towns of North Karnataka forced into this trade by a mafia in connivance with some local politicians.
When the Devadasi becomes a senior citizen, she is allowed to beg in the village to earn her daily livelihood. We find these women going from house to house carrying on their head the idol of their goddess to whom they are dedicated. In their old age, they are thrown to the streets by their relatives for they become an economic burden to the family.
The children of Devadasis experience the worst of humiliations. The children of the Devadasis do not know who their father is. In the school records, the father’s name is not mentioned. These days since the children of the Devadasis are being educated, they ask their mothers about their father, but they are replied with a stony silence though the mother knows who the father of the child is.
Many Devadasis have turned into sex workers. In 1982, the Government of Karnataka, abolished the Devadasi system legally. Though the government abolished the system legally, they did not provide alternate rehabilitation programmes for the Devadasis. As a result, they were deprived of their economic sustenance. The situation of dire poverty has now led them to do sex work in the village and in the towns of the districts of North Karnataka.
Devadasi system is perpetuating caste oppression. Only the female children of low castes become Devadasis and not of the high castes. It is a subtle way of using women of the low castes by the high caste men for their sexual pleasure perpetuating the oppressive and discriminatory caste system.
The system of Devadasis has led to the fast spread of HIV/AIDS. Since the law has abolished Devadasi system, the women who were led to this practice were not able to earn their living. This situation led them to get into commercial sexual practice which is economically lucrative. But the consequence of getting into commercial sex work has cost the lives of Devadasis and it has led to the fast spread of HIV/AIDS in the districts of North Karnataka. According to the government data, there are around 97,000 commercial sex workers in the eight districts of North Karnataka. These commercial sex workers are taught the safe sex methods. But due to poverty, these women are compelled to practice non-secure sex practices which result in inflecting themselves with HIV virus. They also become the easy mode of transmission to others. As a result, every village and town of North Karnataka districts has a high incidence of HIV/AIDS.

Rehabilitation Work of the Devadasis and Their Female Children:
At the request of the sex workers of Bijapur, we began a tailoring unit at Nidgundi 60 kms away from Bijapur town. These sex workers were former Devadasis. Now some of them want to give up the sex trade and also do not want their children to get into the same system. Subsequently, we also started another centre at Kakandki where there is a large number of Devadasi population. We have formed SHG groups, tuition centres, and tailoring centres for the Devadasis and their children. Some of the children of the Devadasis are relocated from their habitat in order to pursue their education, both academic and professional. Bijapur District is declared a high risk zone for the spread of HIV/AIDS. According to the government data, 1.5% of the population (the population of Bijapur is 20 lakhs) is infected with HIV/AIDS. People with HIV are not accepted in their families and also in their neighbourhood. Since August 2007, we started a HIV Community Care Centres with the help of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Tarbes and the Civil Hospital. It is a good experiment of Public-Private partnership with the local government in the area of health. Since August 2009 onwards we run a residential and community-based rehabilitation programme for the orphan and vulnerable children infected by HIV/AIDS. There are 24 children who infected by HIV. Most of them have lost both their parents due to HIV/AIDS and no one seems to take care of them. The social stigma is more painful. Besides giving them social and psychological support we are also giving them psycho-social support.

Strategies to Deal with the Devadasi System:
To cope with the above situation, we want to employ the following strategies:
1. Community based intervention
2. Continual awareness on health, caste and gender discrimination
3. Empowerment through formal and technical education
4. Building a movement for minimizing the social evil of Devadasi system

Impact Assessment of Our Intervention:
One of the impacts is that the women have nurtured a sense of belonging to the group and organization. It has given them a sense of identity and self-respect. The level of acceptance has gone up. This can be observed from the way others treat these Devadasi women. The rate of discrimination is reduced in their locality since they are economically empowered and their children are being educated. They have a better bargaining power since they are on the way of becoming self-reliant.

The confidence level of the girl children of the Devadasi women has gone up. They speak out their problems. They are in a position to analyze the oppressive social structure which is victimizing them. They are no more mere victims of this problem. They are becoming the forces of social change. It has taken place due to regular training programmes and exposure programmes. The professional education for a few has given them a sense of hope in their lives. Some of them are taking the entire responsibility of their family. They have got a job after their professional education and it has improved the family situation.
The skills training in tailoring has helped them to earn some income. They are able to have part-time work and have increased their total income.
The capacity building of the Devadasi women’s daughters has taken place. One of them is working as animator to oversee the affairs of self-help groups and monitors the progress of students. Another is working in our Pre-University College as office assistant; three of them are finishing their studies in nursing and soon they will be engaged in decent employment. Some of the girls are also getting computer education and are equipping them with the skills to make them competent.
One of the main objectives was to prevent the girl children of the Devadasis from getting into the same oppressive system. It is fully achieved in our target group but not in our working area. Since we are not in a position to reach out to all due to financial constraints the collective impact is not visible. However, the intervention has made us aware of the process of victimization of the Devadasis and hence a systematic rehabilitation is very much essential.

Project Goal:
“Integral Empowerment of Devadasis and their Female Children through Community Based Intervention”

Project Objectives:
300 female children of Devadasis are in the way out of the Devadasi system through formal educaton at the end of 2015.
75 Devadasis have given up their profession and are doing alternate employment at the end of 2015.
100 Orphan and Vulnerable children of diseased Devadasis due to HIV/AIDS have been rehabilitated through the intervention of the community by 2015.
3000 Devadasis have been sensitized about the negative impact of the Devadasi sytem by 2015.

Plan of Activities:
Formal Education (Primary, Secondary, and Professional): It is our conviction as well as practice that one of the important means to have a long-term intervention is through formal education. In Bijapur, we have succeeded in weaning out 40 female children of Devadasis through formal and professional education.

Skill based education: There are Devadasis and their grown up children who are in search of skills to equip themselves so that they can earn an alternate livelihood. To such we need to provide opportunities and appropriate training. Life coping skills is another important aspect that needs to be continuously provided in developing their personality and gaining self-esteem and motivation.

Income generating activities: The skill equipped persons need to have income generating activities so that they are able to stand on their own.

Formation of SHGs: One of the important and effective means to build unity among the Devadasis is to form their SHGs so that they have collective bargaining power.

Formation of Village Hostels: One of the successful experiments is that of Village Hostels in the rural areas and also close to the local government schools. Each hostel has 30 children. It helped in raising the literacy rate of the rural children and has also reduced school dropout rate.

Community awareness and participation: We are following a CBR model. Hence community needs to be sensitized and prepared to own the project due to its overall impact on the general society particularly if the system is allowed to prevail its impact on the very survival of the general society.

Capacity Building of the community: Certain institutions such as Panchayats, SDMC, Anganwadis, primary and secondary schools need to be strengthened through training of their staff.

Medical Interventions: The children and the Devadasis who are infected by HIV/AIDS or sexually related diseases need to be medically attended to.

Psychosocial support: The Devadasi system is a very dehumanizing and socially demeaning profession. Devadasis and their children need psychosocial support in terms of counseling (both individual and group) and community care whenever they face problems in their personal life or from their community. They need this support especially when they are ill.

Legal Aid: Often Devadasis are harassed by human traffickers, police, mafia, etc. In such times they need legal help and support.

The problem is a complex and immense added to the miserable situation of the girl child in poor village families, this becomes particularly serious. Ours is but a small step towards a great goal of emancipating and empowering the girl children, we look for parents in this venture who would support us with their encouragement, advice and assistance. Together in constructive partnership we can bring a ray of sunshine in the otherwise bleak life of the poor girl children in our village.