Some historical snippets of BN – Part 11 – Devadasi abolition/prevention acts in India

Company paintings of South Indian Nautch (top) and North Indian Nautch (bottom) dated 1830. Copyright: V & A collection

Company paintings of South Indian Nautch (top) and North Indian Nautch (bottom) dated 1830. Copyright: V & A collection
The artist probably used a single template to make both paintings (Note the mridangam player and the female chaperone)

Reading about the history of devadasis one would come across the fact that acts, later converted as laws, against devadasi practices came into effect. Once these laws were implemented, all devadasi activities came to an official full-stop. While reading BN’s history most of us would have come across the efforts of Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy and making the devadasi system illegal in Tamil Nadu. But, what about other neighboring states?

Even though The Bombay Devadasis Protection Act, 1934 and The Tamil Nadu (or Madras) Devadasis (Prevention of Dedication) Act, 1947 were in force, dedication of girls and women into the devadasi was prevalent in Karnataka and Andhra, prompting the government to put an end to it by the late 80’s. Although, I have no legal background, reading through the acts made me ponder about the gap in years between these acts coming into role. More recently by the state of Goa, where in 2003, both protection of the girl child and abolition of dedication practices was enacted.

You can see the full document of the various acts here: http://ge.tt/5lmj8mc?c

In most of these documents, one could see that the women were protected from any punishment, which makes me think, what if the person had willingly become a devadasi, i.e., with consent? Well, the law prohibits anyone to perform the dedication rituals. So, even if someone wants to be one, she will not be punished, but her accomplices would be. Am I right?

 

Devadasi

Dedication

Punishment

Bombay 1934 “devadasi” means any unmarried woman who is dedicated to:: any
Hindu deity, idol, object of worship, temple or other religious institution
Not mentioned as dedication but as “temple” means a place by whatever designation known, dedicated to, or used by, the Hindu community, [or] any section thereof, as a place of religious worship Punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine or with both
Tamilnadu 1947 “devadasi ” means any woman so dedicated “dedication ” means the performance of any ceremony, by whatever name called, by which a woman is dedicated to the service of a Hindu deity; idol, object of worship, temple or other religious institution, and includes ‘pottukattu ‘, ‘gajyepuja’, ‘mudri’, and dancing by ‘Khumbhaharathy’ Punishable with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees, or with both.
Karnataka 1982 “devadasi” means a woman so dedicated “dedication” means the performance of any act or ceremony, by whatever name called, by which a woman is dedicated to the service of any deity, idol, object of worship, temple, other religious institutions or places of worship Punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees
Andhra Pradesh 1988 “Devadasi” means any woman so dedicated by whatever name called and inc1ud.m Basavj, Jogini, Parvathi, Mathamma and Thyamma ‘dedication’ means the performance of any act or ceremony by whatever name called, by which a woman is dedicated to the service of a Hindu diety, Idol, object of worship, temple or other, religious institution or place of worship and includes tying “tali with jakini” to a woman or tying a woman by a garland to a Garuda Khambham, dhaarana and deeksha; Punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, but which shall not be less than two years and with fine which may extend to rupees three thousand but which shall not be less than rupees two thousand.
Goa 2003 ”Child in need” means all children including those whose rights are being violated or who need special attention and/or protection and shall include… (iv) A child who has been dedicated; “Dedication” means the performanceof any act or ceremony by whatever name called, by which a girl child is dedicated to the service of any deity, idol, object of worship, temple, other religious institutions or places of worship Punished with imprisonment of either description for a term  which may extend to 3 years and with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees

References:

  1. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O20238/nautch-party-painting-unknown/
  2. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O16869/nautch-party-painting-unknown
  3. http://www.lawsofindia.org/statelaw/2693/TheAndhraPradeshDevadasisProhibitionofDedicatedAct1988.html
  4. http://www.lawsofindia.org/statelaw/5285/TheTamilNaduDevadasisPreventionofDedicationAct1947.html
  5. http://www.lawsofindia.org/statelaw/2403/TheKarnatakaDevadasisProhibitionofDedicationAct1982.html
  6. http://www.ncpcr.gov.in/Acts/Goa_Childrens_Act_2003.pdf
  7. http://www.wikigender.org/index.php/Devadasi
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