The images of the Saundatti Temple in Belgaum dedicated to the Goddess Yellamma were accompanied by the voice over of Shoba Gasti. “My mother had a dream about the jogins(devadasis) of the Temple,” she says about the incident that triggered her dedication to the temple as a devadasi when she was only 12-years-old.
Through Kaushik G. Ray’s documentary film ‘Eyes Wide Open’ which was screened at the U.S. Consulate General on Wednesday, the viewers got a glimpse of Ms. Gasti’s struggle to rid the Belgaum district in Karnataka of this age-old practice. “There are 3,600 devadasis in the district and we have resolved to end this evil practice with our generation,” says Ms. Gasti.
Her efforts as a volunteer of Mahila Abhivrudhi Mathu Samrakshana Samsthe (MASS), an NGO focused on collective action to end the Devadasi system, were honoured by recognising her as the Consulate’s Mission India Nominee for the Secretary of State’s 2012 Women of Courage Award.
“In 1997, Shoba volunteered to work with MASS and faced deeply entrenched opposition from community leaders who wanted to preserve this practice. Her perseverance has largely eradicated the practice in Belgaum and elevated the position of Devadasis in society,” said Consul-General Jennifer McIntyre.
In the panel discussion that followed the screening, S.Anandhi, associate professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, observed that the film is a nuanced presentation of the life of a Devadasi and starts a debate about livelihood issues for these women.
About whether legislation can be helpful in curbing this problem, advocate Geeta Ramaseshan, said: “The existing law is criminal in nature and has tremendous limitations in addressing social issues. The real challenge is in prevention of this practice.” Payal Saksena, advocacy manager, EveryChild India said the law has had adverse implications. “Since it prohibits dedication of women, there has been a surge of clandestine dedications.”