Dear Friends, I am glad Mr. Raju and Ms. Reddy start the discussion on Devadasis. I work in Sampark, bangalore and it works with poorest women in Koppal district, north karnataka. of the 2000 women we work with, 400 are devadasis. They are the poorest, most neglected, live on the outskirts of the village, most assetless, and thier children are most likely to be school drop outs and in heavy, underpaid jobs.
Ms. Reddy is right, the practice has reduced greatly, due to local awareness, and the resolve by the scheduled castes themselves to gain dignity for themselves, and not offer thier women to high caste men. Among the 25 villages that we work in, only a few dedications have taken place, in only two villages, over the past ten years.
The government has had badly designed and implemented schemes for them. When they were allotted 2 acres of land each, these were useless barren pieces or those submerged by the dam, which are either totally uncultivable or only for 3 months every year. When they were given Rs. 10,000 if they got married, men came forward to marry them, and then left after the money was realised. The villagers shunned them, saying they had broken thier promise to God. The government's count of devadasis is severly faulty, not accounting for those who were dedicated after the devadasi law was passed, so many remain unrecognised by the government. We hear new official schemes are on the horizon, to support devadasis and a new count has been taken in the villages....
Sampark works to economically support them, through self help groups for savings and credit linkages, business start ups. We support thier children to attend school and older children to get vocational training and get employment or start enterprises. We have worked with them to stop new dedications. Our work was also very slow, then we found support from Pangea foundation in Italy, to support women's empowerment and thier children's future.
These measures take care of thier current and future livelihoods. What is needed is more and more such efforts, for economic and social support, which are also long term. It took us 7 to 9 years before we could see any strong impact.