What is Devadasi Custom

Since ancient times, all the evils and superstitions have been dominated in our society, which gradually disappeared with the development of broad scientific consciousness over time. But even today in our society some such evils and superstitions are practiced on a large scale which are embarrassing for the human society of 21st century. One of these evils is the Devadasi system. Under this custom, young girls have to be dedicated in temples as servants to please the deities. According to this custom, once they become devadasis, these girls can neither marry any other person nor lead a normal life.

Recently two new studies on ‘devadasi practice’ were conducted by National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Mumbai and Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Bangalore.  These studies paint a grim picture of the apathetic approach of the legislature and enforcement agencies to crack down on the Devadasi system. Even after a lapse of more than 36 years since the Karnataka Devadasis (Prohibition of Dedication) Act, 1982, the state government is yet to issue rules for the operation of this law, which somewhere-  Somewhere it is proving helpful in promoting this evil practice. This evil practice of dedicating young girls in temples as servants to please the gods/gods not only persists in Karnataka, but is also spreading in the neighboring state of Goa. According to the study, girls who are mentally or physically weak are the easiest victims of this practice.  One in five devadasis who were part of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) study were found to be suffering from a similar weakness. Researchers from NLSIU found that girls from socio-economically marginalized communities continue to become victims of this malpractice after which they are thrown into the hordes of prostitution. The researchers at TISS emphasized that the devadasi system receives customary approval from the family and their community. Despite the widespread adoption of this practice and its linkage to sexual violence, recent legislations such as the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act, 2012 and the Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act, 2015, have provided for sexual harassment of children. No reference is made to this malpractice as a form of exploitation. India’s Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act or the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 also does not mark devadasis as victims of trafficking for sexual purposes. The study has highlighted that the state’s failure to increase livelihood sources for the weaker sections of the society is also fueling the continuation of this practice.

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