New Delhi: The Jyoti Singh gangrape tragedy in Delhi has come to the rescue of devdasis in the country. The Union home ministry has invoked the stringent provisions of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013, which gave the law more teeth after the gangrape incident, to act as a deterrent to clamp down on the age-old “devadasi system” which, shockingly, continues to exist in some parts of the country. In Telangana and parts of AP, it is prevalent under the guise of religious practice.
A devadasi is a woman dedicated to worship and service of a deity or a temple all her life. A system long abolished by states but still continuing in certain parts, the NDA government has asked all states to invoke Sections 370 and 370A of the Indian Penal Code under the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013 to treat all such cases as “sexual exploitation”, besides slapping cases against offenders under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act and invoking penal provisions that deal with selling minors for prostitution.
The MHA has said in its advisory to all state governments that in some parts India communities, like the Beriya and Nat, are still following the heinous practice “under the name of religious practice” and degrading women under the devadasi system.
The new law will now be applicable to the devadasi system and can lead to imprisonment ranging from at least seven years to imprisonment for the remainder of that person’s natural life, depending on the number or category of persons trafficked or, in this case, forced into the devadasi system. The stringent law, which was adopted after a nationwide outcry following the Jyoti Singh tragedy, also has penal provisions for employment of a trafficked person, which can be invoked against the accused in this case.
The Jyoti Singh case was recently instrumental in amending the juvenile justice law. “Even though it was abolished long back by passing various enactments by different state governments, reports reveal that the devadasi system still persists. Such practice is absolutely inhuman and against the dignity of women and therefore the devadasi system needs to be completely abolished both in letter and spirit,” the MHA has said.
The wake-up call for the Centre came when the SC in November fined the Centre `25,000 for failing to file on time an affidavit on women being forced to become devadasis and the possibility of abolition of the age-old tradition.