Breaking away from an oppressive tradition: Devidasi Vedhike

Professor Rajendra from Bangalore, who introduced us to the work of Dalit activists working to eradicate manual scavenging and obtain rights for safai karmacharis, told us about an organization working for the rights of women who were sexually exploited through the traditional practice of devidasi, or “dedication” of young women to a temple.  The majority of devidai women come from the Madiga subcaste, one of the most oppressed among the Dalit community.  We met some of the people involved in the Devadasi Vedhike, or Devadasi Resource Center (DRC), which works to raise issues that the devadasi community faces, and help children of the community access education and job opportunities that will allow them to break away from this oppressive tradition.
Our conversation lasted a couple of hours and by the end we had more questions than answers.   The levels of patriarchy and oppression are deep and multilayered.  For now I am only noting the people we met, as we stay in touch with this group perhaps we will understand more about the methods of the Vedhike and whether they are effective.

The people we met were:
Mr. Allagiriraj, a journalist, writer and activist, a member of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.  Author of award-winning  gazals in Kannada.  He has been involved in DRC from the beginning, responsible for the mobilizing views and opinions of civil society leaders on the devadasi system. One video and book on opinion published as part of DRC project sponsored by National Mission for the Empowerment of Women.  He is associated with Devadasi Vedhike in several ways specially helping the Vedhike in drawing the attention of policy makers and officials on devadasi issues through the media.
Ms. Nagamma,  a devadasi, woman, office bearer of Vedhike who coordinates and implements activities of Vedhike.
Mr. Yamanurappa, a son of devadasi, who has obtained a Masters in Education and has been involved in spreading the Vedhike to other parts of Koppal district.  He administers and documents programs and managed the project when it was sponsored by the National Mission.
Mr.  Chanadalinga Kalalbandi, grand son of devadasi, 9 standard educated youth, one of the conveners of the Vedhike, very dynamic leader. He coordinates Vedhike activities and is able to articulate issues of devadasi families at taluk, district administration and state administration level.

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