Belgaum: The government and the police keep a strict vigil with the help of local NGOs on annual fairs (jathras) held in villages of north-Karnataka as several agents from Mumbai and Goa reportedly see them as easy picking grounds for Devadasis.
The agents usually arrive at the fairs conducted around the Saudatti and Kokatnur temples in search of Devadasis every year, according to sources. “The agents pay a huge sum to a few locals to get hold of the women and ensure they undergo the rituals of becoming devotees of a deity before they are handed over to them. The whole process is carried out secretly,'” they add.
Although aware of the agents and their operations, the police have a tough time stopping them owing to huge number of devotees at the fairs.
While a lot of the times the girls are initiated into the system in their homes in secret, in some cases they are brought to the temples to wear the chain of black beads that officially makes them Devadasis. “But even when brought to the temples the girls are not taken before the priests for the Devadasi rituals but wait for their guardians to perform the prayers on their behalf,” say activists, explaining that it is poverty that drives many into the system.
The mother of the girl caught in Saudatti had six daughters and four sons who all depended on the meagre salary of her husband, a labourer, they note.
Vimochana Sangh, an NGO which is fighting the Devadasi tradition and running a school for the children of Devadasis in Athani too says that abject poverty usually drives families to give up one of their children to the goddess. As agents from Mumbai and Goa who arrive in Saudatti and Kokatnur, shell out huge amounts to buy the girls, the families are tempted to part with them.
With the girls' families involved in the operation, the government is having a hard time rooting out the practice, say the NGOs fighting to curb it. Founder of Vimochana Sangh, B L Patil has donated several acres of his own land to set up rehabilitation centres for Devadasis in Athani taluk, but most volunteers agree it is an uphill task to fight a system that is backed by the people themselves owing to their socio-economic conditions.