Monday, June 23, 2014

India’s ‘Temple Slaves’ Struggle to Break Free By Stella Paul

Joginis dance outside a temple during a religious festival. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS
Joginis dance outside a temple during a religious festival. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS
NIZAMABAD, India, Jun 22 2014 (IPS) - At 32, Nalluri Poshani looks like an old woman. Squatting on the floor amidst piles of tobacco and tree leaves that she expertly transforms into ‘beedis’, a local cigarette, she tells IPS, “I feel dizzy. The tobacco gives me headaches and nausea.”
At the rate of two dollars for 1,000 cigarettes, she earns about 36 dollars a month. “I wish I could do some other job,” the young woman says longingly.
But no other jobs are open to her in the village of Vellpoor, located in the Nizamabad region of the southern Indian state of Telangana, because Poshani is no ordinary woman.
She is a former jogini, which translates loosely as a ‘temple slave’, one of thousands of young Dalit girls who are dedicated at a very young age to the village deity named Yellamma, based on the belief that their presence in the local temple will ward off evil spirits and usher in prosperity for all.
Poshani says she was just five years old when she went through the dedication ritual.
First she was bathed, dressed like a bride, and taken to the temple where a priest tied a ‘thali’ (a sacred thread symbolising marriage) around her neck. She was then brought outside where crowds of villagers were gathered, held up to their scrutiny and proclaimed the new jogini.
“Women here now see the jogini system as a violation of Dalit people’s human rights." -- Kolamaddi Parijatam, a rights activist in Vellpoor.
For several years she simply lived and worked in the temple, but when she reached puberty men from the village – usually from higher castes who otherwise consider her ‘untouchable’ – would visit her in the night and have sex with her.
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