Other States

36 years after law, girls still forced into devadasi custom

More than thirty-six years after the Karnataka Devadasis (Prohibition of Dedication) Act of 1982 was passed, the State government is yet to issue the rules for administering the law. Meanwhile the practice of dedicating young girls to temples as an offering to appease the gods persists not just in Karnataka, but has also spread to neighbouring Goa.

Two new studies on the devadasi practice by the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru, and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai, paint a grim picture of the apathetic approach of the legislature and enforcement agencies to crack down on the practice, particularly prevalent among oppressed communities of north Karnataka.

A disturbing aspect revealed by the new studies is that special children, with physical or mental disabilities, are more vulnerable to be dedicated as devadasis — nearly one in five (or 19%) of the devadasis that were part of the NLSIU study exhibited such disabilities.

The NLS researchers found that girls from socio-economically marginalised communities continued to be victims of the custom, and thereafter were forced into the commercial sex racket. The TISS study buttresses the point by stressing that the devadasi system continues to receive customary sanction from families and communities.

Reporting of cases pertaining to the custom under the Karnataka law is very low, with only four cases filed between 2011 and 2017. None of these cases were filed in Ballari, where village and district authorities indicated that identifying and preventing the incidents was difficult. The law is used sparingly, and focuses on prosecution (including of the victims themselves) with no framework for rehabilitation.

Despite sufficient evidence of the prevalence of the practice and its link to sexual exploitation, recent legislations such as the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act 2012, and Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act of 2015 have not made any reference to it as a form of sexual exploitation of children, the NLSIU’s Centre for Child and the Law noted in its report.

Dedicated children are also not explicitly recognised as children in need of care and protection under JJ Act, despite the involvement of family and relatives in their sexual exploitation. India’s extant immoral trafficking prevention law or the proposed Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill 2018, also do not recognise these dedicated girls as victims of trafficking for sexual purposes.

The State’s failure to enhance livelihood sources for weaker sections of society fuels the continuation of the practice, the studies underline. More inclusive socio-economic development apart, NLSUI has mooted a legislative overhaul and a more pro-active role from State agencies.

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Printable version | Oct 18, 2020 12:32:00 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/36-years-after-law-girls-still-forced-into-devadasi-custom/article25995956.ece

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