Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Caste and ritualized prostitution 4/7

Devdasi is an established practice in South India where a girl is dedicated to serve the god at the very early age. Originally, these women were associated with the singing and dancing, however, with the disintegration of feudal empire they lost their traditional patrons. This made them vulnerable and they were forced to indulge in the prostitution. Traditionally, they enjoyed high social status as being servant of God; however, with the change in social moralities and social conditions these women too were stigmatized and marginalized.

Devdasi tradition has been outlawed by the government but it is still prevalent in many parts of India with different names and manifestations. One such is the Jogini tradition of Andhra Pradesh, which is the contemporary form of Devdasi. However, one of the distinctive feature of Jogini tradition is that by norm lower caste women can become a jogin which was not the norm in case of devdasi. Interestingly, jogins tradition ensures the dominance of upper caste males. Eventually, reinforces the caste hierarchies. Once the women of lower caste become jogin she has to do sexual intercourse not only with the upper caste males but with the males of their own community. These women lose belongingness from particular community and even the lower caste males of their own community sexually exploit jogins. This creates the identical interest between lower caste males and upper caste males and they want this system to prevail. This shows the interface of caste hierarchies and gendered discrimination.

Politics of Shame and of Exclusion

The cultural values and norms of society produce marginalization sometimes directly and reproduce marginalization indirectly through ‘victimization’. The cultural codes generated through structures of patriarchy reinforces particular norms for women and thus, creates gender essentialism which subtly but strongly influences the perception of these women about their own SELF. These women in prostitution therefore perceive themselves to be indulged in some sort of immoral practice which they might not think wrong in their individual judgment. But socially constructed meaning to this act robs off their own construction of SELF and reduces them to be a victim. Eventually, cultural codes regulates and controls the body and sexuality of the women There are multiple forms of marginalities attached to it where social marginalization and victimization also reinforces political marginalization as well because these women are driven out of the Public Space.

It is stated earlier that the association of prostitution with the religion has been the age old phenomenon, so in many parts of the country we can find the female dancers and singers attached to temples are generally referred to by the term ‘Devdasi, which literally means: ‘female slaves of the deity. The cult of dedicating girls to temple is prevailing all over India in different forms and names, such as Devdasi in Karnataka state, Maharis in Kerala state, Natis in Assam state and so on. As centuries passed, their services shifted from gods to earthly lords. Also, rural child prostitution is rooted in the continued exploitation of the scheduled castes and the position of girls is the most oppressed within these historically oppressed groups (Shankar 1990). Many a times young girls of low caste, even before the onset of puberty are singled out by the rich or powerful people of the community or by parents themselves.

This is how cultural norms exploits and subjugates women and creates multiple marginalizations when it exploits women of low caste because they are most vulnerable to be exploited easily. The lower caste girls are earmarked to join this profession sometimes through some constructed ritual and sometimes through social force. Perhaps I have a poor understanding of a different community’s traditions but I ask, whose tradition is this? Is it an individual girl’s tradition? What about culture- who made the culture? To whose advantage and disadvantage is it? I feel as though many practices are conveniently played off as “cultural,” thus assigning some sort of reason for why they exist when our intuition tells us otherwise.

The act certainly has implication for the caste system. The act in Indian society is considered to be shameful act which subsequently mean that the one who would indulge in it would be marginalized and excluded because of the shame and stigma attached to it. Why has been the case that lower caste women be inducted into this kind of culture. The logic is simple, caste hierarchies and power-relations debars the upper caste to practice such a degrading profession and it is because of their caste based world-view in which the women of upper caste is nurtured. Why this tradition is prevalent amongst the lower caste communities? This practice of earmarking the profession for lower caste is a feature of caste system which creates room for brahmanic organization of culture in such a way that lower caste automatically become excluded. The culture of shame in a way is a necessary element for the caste system. It is perhaps because this ensures the continuation of culture of caste system and hierarchies. Caste system's ideological foundation rest on purity/impurity which means impure works are to be performed by those who are lower in caste category. This closed system considers the act of prostitution outside traditional bramanic norms of marriage was attached with lower caste and therefore became shameful and vice-versa.

Thousands of Dalit girls are forced into prostitution every year. The link between caste and forced prostitution is apparent in the Devadasi and Jogini systems practiced in India. In India, the Devadasi and Jogini systems are a form of religiously sanctioned sexual abuse. Originally a sacred, religious practice, the Devadasi dedication of girls to temples has turned into a systematic abuse of young Dalit girls serving as prostitutes for dominant caste community members [5]. Most girls and women in India’s urban brothels come from Dalit, lower-caste, tribal, or minority communities. In 2007, Anti-Slavery International published a study on the practice of ritual sexual slavery or forced religious ‘marriage’. It found that 93% of Devadasi were from Scheduled Castes and tribes.

Ravinder Kumar, an unemployed graduate, says, "The moment they (employers) see the Bedia name, they set aside our job applications." Kumar says no person from the village has been able to get a job with the Rajasthan government. Bedia children are taunted and discriminated against in schools.


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