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By Stella Paul. The pair leads a simple yet contented life – they subsist on half a dollar a day, stitch their own clothes and participate in schemes to educate their community in the Bellary district of the Southwest Indian state of Karnataka. But not so very long ago, both women were slaves. They have fought an exhausting battle to get to where they are today, pushing against two evils that lurk in this mineral-rich state: the practice of sexual slavery in Hindu temples, and forced labour in the illegal mines that dot Bellary District, home to 25 percent of India’s iron ore reserves. Finally free of the yoke of dual-slavery, they are determined to preserve their hard-won existence, humble though it may be.
"Men would shuffle in and out of my room at night as if I had no right over my body, only they did. It broke me down completely." -- A 27-year-old Dalit woman, forced to serve as a 'temple slave' in South India
Concerned over “Devadasi” system, the illegal practice of dedicating girls to temples prevalent in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, the National Commission for Women (NCW) has proposed in-depth studies to bring out measures to rescue and rehabilitate the victims.
There are very few examples of children of devadasis going for higher studies given their social and financial background. But Suvarna Shanta Madar, 36, a devadasi's daughter from Kokatnur village in Athani taluk has got her doctorate, fighting all odds on the way.
Because India’s jurisprudence remains ill-equipped to stringently provide legal protection for Dalits, human traffickers easily kidnap and lure vulnerable Dalit women and girls into prostitution and child marriage and men and children into bonded labor in factories and on farms.
Bulbul: song of the Nightingale -
On attaining puberty, the dalit girl (usually belonging to Maadiga or Chalavadi communities) suffers a lifetime of sexual exploitation, stigma, superstition and disease, all in the garb of religion.
According to official records, there are an estimated 30,000 joginis – also known as devdasis or matammas – in Telangana today. An additional 20,000 live in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh. In both states, over 90 percent of the joginis are from Dalit communities.According to Jyoti Neelaiah, a Hyderabad-based Dalit rights leader, “The jogini system is not just a violation of women’s rights but a also of human rights, because it’s always a Dalit woman who is made a jogini and those whom she serves are always from a dominant caste.”
by Max Bearak
Video report by Siddharth Kara on caste-based slavery in Nepal - focus on Badi (caste-based prostitution) and Kamaliri (caste-based domestic slavery).