An Exploitative System Disguised as Cultural Practice:
The Story of India’s Devadasis

An Exploitative System Disguised as Cultural Practice:  The Story of India’s Devadasis

Devadasis, victims of the continuing practice of girls being dedicated to a goddess before reaching puberty, and being forced into sex from the time they start menstruating.  They usually belong to specific castes among the Scheduled Castes, particularly Madars, Madigas and Valmikis. Devadasis are victims of the worst forms of child labour, as they are subject to forced sex, rape and other violent atrocities from early adolescence. While all sex with minors is statutory rape, the Devadasi practice is identified as caste-sanctioned rape, made socially acceptable by terming it local culture. Devadasis are almost invariably asset-less, with little or no education and skills, and very low incomes. This arises in part because the practice is mostly conducted among the poorest and most vulnerable populations. The girl is often forced to support her household through sex work, supplemented with manual labour. Children of Devadasis too are affected, as they have no proof of paternity, and so face discrimination and restricted education and work opportunities.  The case of Devadasis is thus a case of extreme gender and caste discrimination in Indian society.

This Unit, based on a chapter of the India Exclusion Report 2015-2016, includes a teacher’s guide for facilitating exploration and discussion of the issue, along with a playlist of resources on the topic for deepening student understanding. The factsheet, student guide and teaching guide provides a brief overview of the situation of Devadasis; presents additional resources such as films and articles that students can explore on their own and also provides a teaching guide, that teachers may use as an aid while teaching this issue in the classroom. Devadasis, as one of the most vulnerable gender groups may serve as a good case study for studying social inequality, caste and gender discrimination and atrocities in Indian society.

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Factsheet (PDF)

Student Guide (PDF)

Teacher Guide (PDF)