ASSET India Foundation has identified two reputable organization in the state of Karnataka that rehabilitate and educate the children of devadasis. In order to prevent the children from entering the flesh trade, ASSET will be providing laptop computers and digital educational content through iEinstein.org founded by well known Silicon Valley entrepreneur Kamran Elahian. The same program will also be offered in two additional locations in Kolkata.
The practice of Devadasi, meaning ‘a woman who serves god’, is an ancient Indian custom by which a girl is ceremoniously dedicated or married to a deity or to a temple to serve the goddess Yellamma. Traditionally Devadasis had a particular status in their community but over recent years the practice has been made illegal and has degenerated so that low-caste girls are being exploited and abused in the sex industry.
The Devadasi practice of serving the goddess Yellamma has been exploited so that dedicated girls are expected, once they reach puberty, to serve the goddess by having sexual relations with men for money in their community. The girls are also extremely vulnerable to being sold or trafficked into urban brothels in Bombay, New Delhi, or other main cities. The custom is illegal but the practice continues. This child abuse and exploitation is always and unequivocally wrong. Articles 34 and 35 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child require states to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.
Grinding poverty and lack of opportunities for Madiga families from the lowest caste can lead desperate parents to resort to dedicating their children to serve as Devadasi. The caste system plays a key role in both the corrupted Devadasi system and trafficking of girls into the sex industry. The practice is historically related to the worship of deities particular to the lower, Madiga caste. Extreme poverty and routine discrimination experienced by Madiga families further increase the risk of dedication. Parents who have no male children sometimes dedicate one of their daughters so she will be able to care for them in their old age. Women who have been widowed, or who are living with HIV dedicate their daughters as Devadasis if they struggle to support them or anticipate difficulty with marriage prospect is not uncommon for the female children of Devadasi women to be dedicated as Devadasis themselves, repeating the cycle.
The impact on girls is extreme. Most Devadasi girls are separated from their families at a very young age and are forced to work in the sex industry at abysmally low wages which increases their vulnerability to trafficking, malnutrition and infection of HIV/AIDS.
ASSET has been invited to apply for a $50,000 grant to fund the above projects.