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Devadasi system

Topics Covered:

  1. Salient features of Indian Society, Diversity of India.
  2. Women and related issues.
  3. Social empowerment.
  4. Development processes and the development industry the role of NGOs, SHGs, various groups and associations, donors, charities, institutional and other stakeholders.
  5. Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.


Devadasi system


What to study?

  • For Prelims: What is Devadasi system and where is it practiced?
  • For Mains: Ban, implementational challenges, concerns and the need for reforms.


Context: Few recent studies have found that the practice of Devadasi system 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.

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.


Concerns- highlights of the study:

Vulnerable population: Special children, with physical or mental disabilities, are more vulnerable to be dedicated as devadasis. Girls from socio-economically marginalised communities continued to be victims of the custom, and thereafter were forced into the commercial sex racket.

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. The law is used sparingly, and focuses on prosecution (including of the victims themselves) with no framework for rehabilitation.


Loopholes: 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. 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.


What is Devadasi system?

Devadasi system is a religious practice whereby parents marry a daughter to a deity or a temple. The marriage usually occurs before the girl reaches puberty. In recent decades, the practice has been used to push young girls into prostitution. While various state governments have enacted laws to stop such practices, the tradition remains entrenched in some parts of the country, especially some southern states.


Laws prohibiting its practice:

The practice of Devadasi system in any form is in total contravention of the provisions of Section 370 and 370A as amended through Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 as well as Section 372 of Indian Penal Code. It is also against Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act.


Need of the hour:

  • Enhance livelihood sources for weaker sections of society.
  • More inclusive socio-economic development.
  • A legislative overhaul and a more pro-active role from State agencies.


Sources: the hindu.