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Friday 18 January 2013

Slavery in the name of religion; modern manifestation of Devadasi

Slavery in the name of religion; modern manifestation of Devadasi
: Dr. Ruth Manorama, Dalit Foundation

Bangalore 15, Jan 2013.
A two days (15th & 16th Jan2013) national round table consultation organised by Dalit Foundation and Samta Trust on eradication of Devadasi system held at Aashirvad, Marks Road, Bangalore. The consultation began with the key note address by Ruth Manorama, National president of NAWO. In her address she stressed on how in spite of strong laws and government welfare programmes Devadasi system is prevailing in the country.  And the only difference we see in present day is that it has manifested in modern forms in terms of name and its existence particularly in four states Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra”. She said, we are not just flesh stock but we are human who have the right to be free from all kinds of exploitation, to be treated with respect and dignity. Social activists, academicians, leaders from civil society, govt officials and victims of Devadasi system came together to share & discuss to form a strategy for the eradication of Devadasi system through proper implementation of law and welfare programmes.

Chandrashekhar, a researcher and founder of SAMATA TRUST shared his experience of working with the devadasi women in Koppal and partial findings of his PhD research. He says more than 99% Devadasi women belong Scheduled caste community. Giving the historical context of devadasi system he pointed out the problems that the victims of devadasi women face in the society, while dealing with the systems of government. Even they hold voter ID card but do not have access to the govt welfare programmes. He stresses that this is specifically due to lack of sensitivity, caste mind set and ignorance among govt officials. The victims of Devadasi system suffer multiple levels of discrimination and ignorance not only from the government but civil society too.  Children of Devadasi, who do not have father’s name to give in the schools during admissions, suffer from discrimination as they are not getting admissions in the schools and other benefits ensured by the govt through various welfare programmes made exclusively for the eradication of devadasi system. .Even opening a bank account is not possible for the devadasi. There are around 28,000 devadasi in the ten districts in the state of Karnataka who suffering acute exploitation due to this social evil in the most developed state of the country.

Divya, a researcher from TISS shared part of her research experience with the Devadasi of Northern Karnataka, which focussed on to understand the present form of devadasi from the experience of devadasi women. The relationship between caste hierarchy and patriarchal values of the social cultural set up of the region has a greater role in the perpetuation of the system and complicating the life of devadasi women in terms of their kin relations, and their relation with other people in the society, occupation and livelihood.  Even opening a bank account is not possible for the devadasi.

Akhilavasan, Co-convenor, People Health Movement, Karnataka said that Health is a fundamental rights under human rights which must be non discrimination and with the perspective of social justice and equality. Majority of Devadasi are suffering from critical health diseases including HIV and AIDS but due to the acute discrimination on the basis of caste, they are not getting proper treatment.

Academicians, social activist and victims demanded five acres of land which can be cultivated to the victims of Devadasi, time bound status report from the Govt on Devadasi’s and ensure free admission with hostel facilities to the children of Devadasi. The victims of Devadasi system vibrantly participated and shared their experience of being a devadasi.

 On the second day strategic planning for the future action was the focus. This session was facilitated by Mr. Pradeep Esteeves, where devadasi women themselves participated in forming the future plan of action by identifying their problems that they were facing.  The major concern that came up was social exclusion, stigma, redtapism in availing the government services, identity. The need was felt to have a national level movement with a strong grass root level participation.  The groups felt the need of involving the community, government, media, social activists and organisations in carrying out the action to eradicate the system.  

Chandrashekhara  HR                                                                                                                  Date: 15.01.13

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