Hubballi: A devadasi who transformed her life, and that of others

5000 former Devadasis working for Aids prevention in Bagalkot district.

Hubballi: She was once a Devadasi herself, but Madhu Naduvinamani, 37, of Rabakavi in Jamkhandi taluk had dreams of a better life and to the admiration and even surprise of many, she has made them come true, breaking away from the system which had her in shackles and helping others like her too find a new way of life .

The easy part was striking out on a different path herself. The hard part was trying to convince other Devadasis to do the same. But she persisted, often visiting them in their homes to tell them what life could be like if they only dared to reach for it .

As people had little knowledge about AIDS in Bagalkot, which has a high prevalence of HIV and superstition has deep roots here, it was believed the disease was the curse of God and Devadas is resorted to black magic to cure it instead of seeking medical aid. But Madhu was not one to give up.

“People ridiculed our effort to form a separate organisation for Devadasis and we had to struggle for over a year to get it registered in 2001. The women of the community also refused to hear our pleas to give up the Devadasi system and I had to face a great deal of flak when we tried to spread awareness about AIDS and the significance of providing education to their children. Now, these women have gained a proper position in society and have stopped their children from becoming Devadasis, which was the prime aim of our organisation,” says Madhu, who is president of the Chaitanya Aids Prevention Association, which now has over 5000 former Devadasis working for it in Bagalkot district.

Drawing inspiration from the NGOs working in the district, Madhu launched an awareness campaign about government facilities to help the women become self- reliant and then set up a co-operative credit society which now has 1,350 former Devadasis as members.

It has given around 700 of its members Rs 75 lakh in loans, freeing the women from the clutches of moneylenders who charged them exhorbitant interest for loans given against their jewellery.

Besides helping former Devadasis become self-employed, running a diary or doing tailoring, Madhu inspired several of the women to join politics during the recent panchayat elections.

The gutsy woman is now using street plays and folk art to drive home her message against child marriage which has helped the Devadasi system thrive in the district.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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