Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Novel Sexual Slavery

Men over the ages have been fairly creative in finding out multiple avenues to address their sexual needs. Gentle coercion, trickery, prostitution, rape, blackmail, war booty and casual encounters with the opposite sex are but a few of the avenues readily available to the physically stronger of the human sexes. The method used may vary depending upon circumstances, the environment and local mores but the primal need to sexually subjugate and control members of the opposite sex remains. The New Yorker magazine profiles yet another form of this subjugation highlighting an ancient Hindu practice in southern India where pre-pubertal girls were initiated into becoming a sex worker (devadasis) by making the girl believe that she is a demi-goddess and the services she performs are actually a service to the lord. An elaborate medieval legend involving gods, goddesses, sages and wontons also provide for sufficient moral ammunition for purveyors of the trade to explain to themselves that all they are doing is just another form of worship which in the end will lead to salvation. It is indeed interesting to see the absurd lengths to which we men go to satisfy the primal urge. Indeed repulsive, pathetic and nauseating.

The writer goes with the two devadasis to see the goddess Yellamma at her temple in the southern state of Karnataka. Tells the legend of Yellamma, who was the wife of a powerful rishi, Jamadagni, who punished his body and performed feats of great austerity. After fathering four children, these included a vow of chastity. One day, Yellamma saw a heavenly being making love to his consort. The rush of desire she felt destroyed the yogic powers she used in her husband’s service. Jamadagni guessed what had happened and cursed his wife. According to one version of the story, Yellamma became sickly and ugly, covered with boils and festering sores, cursed to wander the roads of the Deccan begging for alms. Devadasis believe that the tale of Yellamma shows how the goddess is uniquely sympathetic to their fate.

The ‘sex through religion’ system which has been extant for the last thousand years (in some format or other) is starkly illustrated in Telugu poetry from the fifteenth century from the collection ‘When God Is a Customer

I’m not like the others.
You may enter my house,
but only if you have the money.

If you don’t have as much as I ask,
a little less would do.
But I’ll not accept very little,
Lord Konkanesvara.

To step across the threshold
of my main door,
it’ll cost you a hundred in gold.
For two hundred you can see my
my bed of silk,
and climb into it.

Only if you have the money

To sit by my side
and to put your hand
boldly into my sari:
that will cost you ten thousand.

And seventy thousand
will get you a touch
of my full round breasts.

Only if you have the money

Three crores to bring
your mouth close to mine,
touch my lips and kiss.

To hug me tight,
to touch my place of love,
and get to total union,
listen well,
you must bathe me
in a shower of gold.

But only if you have the money

Abstracted from a study here are results of a survey conducted by Joint Women’s Program, Bangalore for National Commission for Women listing the top reasons for the dedication of pre-pubertal girls into a life of sexual slavery:

1. Being a blind, a deaf or a dumb or a crippled girl
2. Well being of the family
3. No male issues in the family
4. Mother was a devadasi
5. Only female child in the family
6. Followed from generations
7. Poverty
8. Father had undergone an operation and vowed to fulfill religious promise
9. It was a religious ritual
10. To appease Gods for the well-being
11. Father’s brother made her a devadasi
12. Due to skin ailments

Suggested References:
- Altekar, A.S., The Position of Women in Hindu Civilization, Benaras: Motilal Banarasi Das, 1956..
- Dubois Abbe J.A and Beachampes H.K., Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1928
- Dumont Louis, Homo Hierarchius: The Caste System and Its Implications, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1972.
- Gough Kathleen, “Female Initiation Rites on the Malabar Coast”, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, No. 85, 1952.
- Kadetotad, N.K., Religion and Society among the Harijans of Yellammana Jogatiyaru Hagu Devadasi Paddati (Jogati of Yellamma and Devadasi Custom), Dharwad, Karnatak University Press (Kannada), 1983.
- Srinivasan, K., Devadasi (a novel), Madras: Christian Literature Society, 1976

Lucian Freud, “Naked Man on Bed’, Oil on canvas, 32” X 28”, 1989

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