A serious drought has been developing across India, placing millions of children at risk. Reports suggest an increase of children being forced into child labour, trafficking, child marriage and deification into the devadasi system. Yogesh Pawar travels extensively in the drought affected region and in a recent article in the DNA documents how the parched lands of Telangana or Rayalaseema in Andhra Pradesh, Gulbarga and Bellary in Karnataka, or Marathwada, and Solapur in Maharashtra, is forcing families to push their young girls into prostitution in the name of ‘dedicating’ them to Yellamma, a goddess associated with devdasis. Offering girls as child brides to the Goddess had been made officially illegal since 1984. However, the ghastly practice still continues in some parts of Karnataka and Maharashtra. According to the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development there are more than 50,000 devdasis in India. ‘Dedication’ is preferred to selling them directly to the flesh trade because the former is given sanction by religious tradition. According to news reports “the tradition of dedicating girls from lower castes created by upper castes to sexually exploit them is making a huge comeback across the drought belt.” This is also the first time girls are being brought to be dedicated to Yellamma as early as April. Traditionally, these ‘dedications’ would happen only between October and February but because of the drought that has left fields barren and people facing starvation, parents are selling their daughters for sustenance. The police is as complicit in this ghastly child-sex trade as the priests. Everybody wants to maintain the status quo. One of them was quoted by the DNA article as saying, “I’m not here to be a social reformer to make enemies of other priests. Look at the cops, they simply need Rs 500 to look the other way. They’re happy, the girl’s family is happy, the temple’s happy. I don’t want to stick my head out to disturb that.” Complicit in this are also local agents, sahukar’s and even family members who all enable the continuance of this exploitative tradition in the name of religion. The family gets a pittance compared to the money they make and the lack of efficient social support or state care for children makes it impossible for poor families to resist the offer of liquid cash. Is there a way out of this vicious cycle ? ‘This is an issue related to the rehabilitation of devdasis, not generic children, so you will have to speak to the concerned authority’ says Arun Nirgatti, Belgaum District Child Protection Unit (DCPU) of the Women and Child Department. A telling response indeed from a body charged with the care and protection of children in the district!
For the full story, read here: Daughters of drought – The vicious cycle of poverty in the parched lands of Karnataka and Maharashtra