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Education for the Devadasis

Education of children of Devadasis

My journey to an organization called Vimochana was an interesting experience. Vimochana is located in a place called Athani in Northern Karnataka.

We were received in the airport by Mr.B.L Patil., the President of Vimochana Sangha. The journey from Kolhapur Airport to Athani where the NGO is situated is a two hour drive and we utilized the time in getting information about the NGO, its work, the people and the issues.


Orientation by Mr Patil about NGO and its activities:

Mr Patil told us that he belonged to Athani where the NGO is now situated. He is a qualified lawyer and practiced very successfully in Belgaum district of Karnataka. Later along with his few associates he started the organization initially by the name of,’ Vimochana Devadasi Punarvasti Sangha, Athani”. As the name suggests the organization was set up to work for rehabilitation of the devadasi women in the area who are one of the most marginalized and exploited communities of the area. Recently this name was changed to Vimochana Sangha, Athani. This was also done to give a broader perspective about the activities of the organization. In the entire journey Mr Patil explained to us about the issues, the area, and about the work proposed to be done. He explained to us that Vimochana in partnership with CCF is in the completion stage of the child sponsorship program. Under this program they have been able to enroll substantial number of children of the area (about 1000) in both the formal and non-formal schools). The other important programs of Vimochana are:


1. Running school from primary to 12th standard level particularly for the education of devadasi children and other deprived sections of the community.
2. Running a library
3. Vimochana Publications for devdasi issues
4. Vimochana Institute of Self Employment Training especially for the Devdasis.
5. Vimochana School of Nursing.

In other words the organization is focused on working for education and economic development of the devdasi and other marginalized communities

DEVADASI –THE MEANING

Devadasi cult has it origin in historical times (in the 3rd century BC) when girls from the scheduled castes communities, upon attending puberty were “offered” to the temple deity. She was supposed to take the oath of serving others, feeding the hungry and beg for alms regularly as a matter of practice. It was discriminatory to the core and the girl lived only to serve the interest of others in the community (to be read as the temple priests and other high castes men in the area). Gradually sexual exploitation of devadasi girls was started by the rich and the upper castes in a routine manner. In many a cases Devadasi’s used to “serve” a man for a year or so till the man was satisfied with her. Hence there came a transformation in the way the system of Devdasi’s originated, from service to others, to sexual abuse by the upper castes.

STATUS OF DEVDASI CULT TODAY:

Though the system of Devadasi is today prevalent in the states of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Maharsatra and Karnataka, yet the system of devdasi has undergone transformation. Most of the women in the area have given up the system in its original form and there is acceptance in the community against the issue. However Devadasi system has left back its remnants which are doing equal harm to women and the girls of the area. These days too, young girls who attend puberty are pushed to sex trade or prostitution by their own parents. Young girls attending puberty are the most vulnerable sections, ready to be pushed into prostitution by their own near and dear once. Education for such children is a distant dream.

Vimochana has estimated that in the villages of Raibagh Taluka there is an estimated number of about 350 Devdasi children in the age group of 6-14 years who are out of school. These are the children who are in danger of falling into prostitution. There are many live examples where young girls have been sent for prostitution to places like Mumbai, Pune and also the neighboring slum called Miraj, which is located on the highway from Kolhapur to Athani. Apart from these children, there are children who belong to other communities and are out of school. Vimochana is yet to do a holistic survey covering all out of school in the area.

Another deplorable state of affairs of education of the devadasi women can be known by the fact that 89% of their women are illiterate. Secondly about 65 % of Devadasi’s live independently without any support systems from family, local govt or any other institutions whatsoever.

Field Visits:

After initial visit to the Vimochana office we left for the field visit. We visited a village called Heedekal. This village has a population of 20,000 with all scheduled castes (lower castes) communities living here. It is a common practice to find the scheduled castes and the devadasi’s living together as the upper castes do not mingle with others. Many of the women were once Devadasis but now either live with one person, or indulge in prostitution silently.

There is a school nearby which has unexpectedly a huge number of teachers (according to the women it had 20).In the meeting the women told us that almost all the children of the community are enrolled in the school however approximately 40 % of the children in the community did not attend school. Out of this majority of the out of school children were girls (as high as 30%).

“The teachers discriminate against our girls. They talk to them from a distance. They refuse to touch them. Even if our daughters have some talents they are never encouraged”- Ambhya (Village Women)

These are the statements made by one of the women, in the community meeting in Heedekal, upon being asked as to why so many girls are out of the school. The agony that the community women have against the school system was quite obvious from the discussions that we had. Teachers have not been trained, nor are they sensitive enough to understand the nuances of girls from the Devadasi community.

Another reason village women stated as the reason for girls not attending school was “timely” marriage. “If girls do not get married by the age of 12-14 it is very difficult to find grooms for them, because people think that the girl might have some problem because of which there is delay in the marriage” –Village women.

Another women said in the meeting,” It becomes very difficult for people to accept our daughters for marriage if they are above 18 and have studied till X-XII. People think that she might be living with other men and hence the delay in the marriage. There is an agency who told us that we should not get our girls married before they are 18 as it is illegal to do. When we started listening to them we were realized that getting grooms for our daughters was becoming a problem. No boy or their parents were ready to accept our “aged” girls”.


The Real Issues in Hand in the program areas

• First, absence of sensitivity of Govt school system to handle as diverse group as children of Devadasi community.
• Second, absence of opportunity for the community to send their older daughters to any other arrangements where they can learn and thus avoid early marriage.
• Absence of any livelihood options for the community to augment their income.

Our meeting in the community lasted till 7 pm where the women said that if any alternative method of education is planned in the village, they would be ready to send their older girls to the school. They were interested to send the children to the schools if handled sensitively by the teachers. Sending children to the schools was one of the best ways of preventing girls from falling into sex trade.

Lets see what we can do for these children………..
Published: 2006-09-07
Author: Raju Sharma

About the author or the publisher
A professional writer who has published numerous articles in the newspapers, journals etc. My expertise is to write on socially relevant issues and on travel. Moreover I also write on real life ancedotes of people.
I am a professionally qualified social worker amd have travlled extensively in India. Writing about people, their cultures, their struggles is a passion which I have nurtured since childhood.
I find te internet to be a great source for wrting articles

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