The Supreme Court on Thursday directed Karnataka chief secretary to take all steps to prevent women from being forced to become ‘devadasis’ at a temple function scheduled to be held tonight in Davanagere district of the state.
A bench headed by Chief Justice P Sathasivam passed the direction on a PIL filed by an NGO, S L Foundation, alleging that ‘devadasis’ dedication is going to take place at Uttarang Mala Durga temple at Harappanahalli Taluk of Davanagere district.
The bench also issued notice to the Karnataka government and asked it to file a response on the PIL seeking framing of guidelines to stop the tradition of ‘devadasis’, saying it is a national shame.
The petitioner alleged that the process of ‘devadasi’ dedication is still prevalent in different parts of the country despite the law against it and pleaded for the apex court’s intervention in the matter.
A ‘devadasi’ is a woman “dedicated” to worship and service of a deity or a temple for the rest of her life.
The first legal initiative to outlaw the devadasi system dates back to the 1934 Bombay Devadasi Protection Act. This act pertained to the Bombay province as it existed in the British Raj.
The Bombay Devadasi Protection Act made dedication of women illegal, whether consensual or not. According to this act, marriage by a devadasi was to be considered lawful and valid, and the children from such wedlock were to be treated as legitimate.
The Act also laid down grounds for punitive action that could be taken against any person or persons found to be involved in dedications, except the woman who was being dedicated. Those found guilty of such acts could face a year’s imprisonment, a fine, or both.
The 1934 Act also provided rules, which were aimed at protecting the interests of the devadasis. Whenever there was a dispute over ownership of land involving a devadasi, the local Collector was expected to intervene.
In 1947, the year of independence, the Madras Devadasi (Prevention of Dedication) Act outlawed dedication in the southern Madras Presidency.
The devadasi system was outlawed in all of India in 1988, yet some devadasis still practice illegally.
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