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Devadasi is a religious practice in parts of southern India, including Andhra Pradesh, whereby parents marry a daughter to a deity or a temple.The marriage usually occurs before the girl reaches puberty and requires the girl to become a prostitute for upper-caste community members. Such girls are known as jogini. They are forbidden to enter into a real marriage.
Joginis are recognised by their copper bangles, the band they wear round their necks with a leather pendant and a long necklace with several pendants which have the image of Goddess Yellamma.
The practice was legal in India until1988, yet it still continues as is evidenced by the testimony of a 35-year-old former jogini named Ashama. She ran away from her village and returned to lead the fight to abolish the illegal practice. The local police do not enforce the law and the villagers themselves make no effort to abolish the heinous practice.
Since the day of the initiation, I have not lived with dignity. I became available for all the men who inhabited Karni. They would ask me for sexual favours and I, as a jogini, was expected to please them. My trauma began even when I had not attained puberty.*
Ashama was seven when her parents married her to the local god. She was recently awarded the Neerja Bhanot award for courage.
The practice of religious prostitution is known as basivi in Karnataka and matangi in Maharastra. It is also known as venkatasani, nailis, muralis and theradiyan.
It has been the Atheist Centre of Vijayawada, India, that has been most instrumental in the movement to eradicate this pernicious religious custom.
Human Rights Watch, Broken People: Caste Violence Against India's "Untouchables" (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999), Chapter VII.)