India’s Forgotten Sex Slaves: The Jogini
A name unknown to most, but it is a name that carries a lot of stigma, a name that many young girls must bear the weight of. It is the name associated with a religious practice today that makes sex slaves out of the most vulnerable of the caste system in India.
The Fall of the Devadasi
To understand the problem that the Jogini face it is important for us to understand their history and the Devadasi system.
Originally, in ancient India, temples were a place where the practice of arts like music, literature and dance were encouraged by the king. The practice soon evolved with the introduction of the Devadasi.
The Devadasi were female servants who were ‘married’ to the gods and were considered to be the property of the temple. These women dedicated their lives to learning the arts and the duties that came along with this. Over time, the duties developed, and the Devadasi were expected to engage in sexual activities with the temple patrons whenever they were summoned.
What started as a highly respected cultural practice eventually trickled its way down to the lower caste system where it has warped into what is practiced today. A more sinister form of the Devadasi sub-culture began engulfing women of the lowest caste and a type of glorified village prostitute was born – the Jogini.
The name ‘Jogini’ is used in a derogatory sense by locals to label women dedicated to the Devadasi system. It is used as a means of undermining the women’s self-worth as well as taking what is left of their identity. Contrary to their historic counterparts, the Jogini are seen as no more than the lowest of the low – a prostitute who receives no payment for the acts she’s compelled to engage in.
Often dedicated at a young age, the tradition dictates that the dedicated Jogini girl is not to be ‘used’ until she reaches puberty. Once she does reach this point, the official or priest who paid for her dedication gets to ‘use’ her first, then she is sent back to her home and made available to the rest of the village. At a tender age, all avenues of escape seem gone. Here begins the sexual slavery that she will endure for the rest of her life.
Modern-Day Jogini Culture
The Devadasi System is alive and well in South India. Today, a conservative estimate of at least 80,000 Joginis live scattered throughout South India.
On the ground, our staff have observed that the same core issues behind modern-day human trafficking are playing a part in the motivation behind the dedication of Jogini. The decision many families make to dedicate their daughters into the Jogini system is deeply rooted in their socioeconomic status. Faced with dire financial situations, complex cultural pressures, gender inequality, and religious superstitions, the family often feel that they have no other viable options other than submitting their daughter to be dedicated as a Jogini. It is easy to see how all these factors work together to ensure the continued abuse of girls through the Jogini practice.
There is also the Jogini cycle of abuse. Once a Jogini has a baby, it is almost inevitable that the child will also become trapped in this life. The children of Jogini rarely get married. They carry a stigma and are confronted with relentless discrimination of bullying and verbal abuse which leaves the child lacking in confidence and education, thus enabling the Jogini cycle to repeat.
Tackling the issue of the Jogini is complex at its core. The religious practice is still prevalent in South India where legally and constitutionally speaking, being a Devadasi has been outlawed. Numerous laws such as the Madras Devadasis (Prevention of Dedication) Act have been in place for decades, yet today we are seeing children as young as five still being dedicated. Alongside this, the practice is steeped in cultural superstition. It is hard for these rural communities and their families to see past the deep-rooted traditions where they believe that the dedication of their young will result in blessings, luck, and favour with the gods.
Approaching An Issue Like No Other
The scope of the problem is intimidating, but, it is essential that we raise awareness and provide education. As an organisation, Child Rescue will be trying to raise awareness and educate the Joginis to help them overcome the social and economic hurdles they face today.
Rescue operations will be complex and individualised in order to truly bring wholeness and safety to these girls’ lives. Our project will focus efforts on the following three target groups within the Jogini System: Girls in the process of being dedicated, girls who are actively Jogini and the daughters of the Jogini women. We currently have a home and already have nine girls in our care. All nine of these girls were at high-risk of being abused but now they can rest knowing they have broken the Jogini cycle in their lives. We are also expanding our aftercare efforts by renting another home that can house 35 girls at a time so that we will be ready to accommodate any girl that comes into our care.
We believe education is the key to addressing the problem at its roots. The Joginis must be equipped with an education to develop their self-confidence and social consciousness in order for them to realise the exploitation of the practice. Through this grassroots approach, we will see the Jogini become strong enough within themselves to stand up and walk away from an abusive system. The freedom of the Jogini lies in more than legal paperwork and stamps. It will be found in the strength of the Jogini women themselves and the discovery of their self-worth and the reshaping of their communities.
With education as our foundation, we will mobilise a team of local women who will be equipped and trained in the Empower Program – the aftercare model Child Rescue runs to teach traumatised children resilience – to enter into these villages and work directly with the Jogini by providing them with practical help. This team will also provide us with information about upcoming dedication ceremonies and will help us identify at-risk children so we can intervene.
Our dream is to eventually begin a movement alongside the rescued and restored Jogini: a movement driven by empowered women who have a grasp and deep understanding of who they are, their value, and how limitless their futures can be.
Laughter is heard while girls in our home enjoy playing games!
Partner with Us
We have partnered with a local organisation that has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to the plight of the Jogini. Our partner has connections throughout 200 villages in the state that we are currently working in and we are excited about the potential of our joint efforts. We are already seeing positive results through the stories that have been shared by girls who have left the Jogini system.
There is a long road ahead of us and we want to invite you to become a part of this movement as we come alongside the Jogini. By becoming a Rescue Partner, your support will help us to grow our efforts in this area as we move to educate and empower these inspiring women to step into futures that are free of the burden of their pasts.
Join us today and help rescue and restore these precious Jogini children by becoming a Rescue Partner and simply donating any amount you choose monthly! Click here to sign up to monthly donations.