Devadasis face many challenges when it comes to accessing their rights. These challenges present themselves in every sphere of their lives – employment opportunities, access to education, savings and security, healthcare, and even extend to familial tensions and lack of support systems for their children. Where governmental schemes exist, their execution within the community is minimal.
Recommendations – What Can and Needs to be Done
The following recommendations have been prepared by the Sampark team, keeping in mind the multitude of challenges that Devadasis face. With the Government being a key stakeholder, the majority of these are directed towards it while some recommendations would also require the support of other stakeholders such as Civil Society and Non-Governmental Organizations.
- Developing a Comprehensive Policy Framework
- Conducting Frequent Surveys and Enumeration
- Legitimizing Maintenance and Inheritance Rights
- Building and Financially Empowering Community-based Organisations
- Improved IEC and Sensitization Efforts
- Enabling Social Mobility for Future Generations
Conducting Frequent Surveys and Enumeration
In order to effectively address the challenges of the Devadasi system, it is crucial to understand the current situation appropriately. It has been over a decade since the last official survey was conducted and the multiple studies conducted in-between point to significant gaps in identifying and curbing the Devadasi system. Conducting a new survey and frequent enumerations subsequently, can go a long way in tackling these challenges, if carried out effectively. Any benefit that can be given to the Devadasis, especially at a time when the socio-economic situation across the country has taken a hit due to Covid 19, would positively support those who are currently not a part of the beneficiaries list but are suffering.
Empowering the Future
At a time when the country is focusing on StandUp India and Atmarirbhar Bharat, it is important to ensure that those who are discriminated against also get appropriate support to be a part of this drive. When it comes to Devadasis, this would require a two-fold approach – livelihood support and skill training, and not a single-track approach.
This is because, on the one hand, Devadasis who are above the age of 50 may not be interested in upskilling themselves and may require more direct support. Apart from effectively delivering pensions, the Government must thus ensure that loans to start businesses be made more accessible to Devadasis. According to the survey conducted by Sampark, quite a few Devadasis mentioned the idea of setting up their own business, if given loans. On the other hand, there are Devadasis who are in their 30s who could take up good livelihood opportunities if they are provided with the right skills and training. With the help of Civil Society Organizations working in this field, interest and need-based skill training programs can be undertaken and provided to them.
Enabling Support for Children
An important element in curbing the Devadasi system is ensuring that their children have an improved outlook towards their future. Given that they receive very little or no support from their fathers, and to ensure that they do not fall into the vicious cycle of poverty and dedication, it is important that the children of Devadasis are given the right platform, especially with regards to education and livelihood opportunities.
Support for the Devadasis
Devadasis have limited support systems which stop them from leading healthy and secure lives. While the pension provided by the Government helps to a certain extent, more such systems need to be in place. One mechanism is to ensure that the Devadasi community can be channelized in support of each other. While the Government can play some role on this front, an important stakeholder to take this forward would be the Civil Society Organizations. Apart from this, steps must be taken to legally ensure that Devadasis receive support from their partners. This can be done by recognizing the partners of Devadasis as has been done in the case of the Domestic Violence Act in the case of live-in relationships.
The data collected as part of the Sampark study suggests that awareness regarding the presence of legislation banning the Devadasi system has been created. This, however, does not mean that Devadasi dedications have completely stopped. Not only are the Devadasi numbers much higher than officially recorded ones, but dedications also have continued post the law coming into force. This means that a lot more needs to be done in terms of raising social awareness. This would require dedicated IEC campaigns by the government, which effectively involve the local community. Plays, acts and local tools can be used to promote this further. Additionally, there is also little awareness among Devadasis regarding the various schemes running for their benefit. The government must therefore make use of its on-ground resources to advance this further. Through actors such as ASHA and Anganwadi Workers, scheme details may be disseminated to Devadasis such that awareness, as well as their uptake amongst the community, improves.
For there to be a just, fair, and discrimination-free India, it is a must that neglected and ostracised communities like the Devadasis be given a helping hand and receive a respectable position in society, as is deserving of any citizen of India.