Girls worshipped as goddesses, virtually naked: NHRC claims it as abuse and slavery, state govt denies accusation

Girls worshipped as goddesses, virtually naked: NHRC claims it as abuse and slavery, state govt denies accusation

Chennai/ Tamil Nadu, September 27: The National Human Rights Commission, on Monday, asserted that it is ‘abuse and slavery’ to worship young girls as goddesses in south Indian village temples.

According to the rituals, girls are dressed like brides and later their dresses are removed, virtually leaving them naked. It is a form of banned devadasi system, said NHRC.

Despite being outlawed in 1988, the devadasi system, which ‘dedicates’ girls to a life of sex work in the name of religion continues in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and in parts of western India.

NHRC said in a statement, “They are denied to live with their families and have education. They are forced to live in Mathamma temples, deemed to be … public property and face sexual exploitation.”

The report is referred to a 15 day festival held in parts of Tamil Nadu that got concluded on Tuesday. During the festival, local goddesses are worshipped and seven girls are chosen by the community to stay in the temple.

Accusations of abuse have been denied by the state government. Administrative head of Madurai K Veera Raghava Rao said, “Our child protection team has visited the temple in question and parents are there to take care of the girls.”

He added, “These are 200 year old traditions that are practise in many village temples across the region. We have not found any case of abuse and our officials are monitoring the functions. We have asked them to cover the girls with a shawl.”

According to campaigners, hundreds of girls aged between seven and ten are made to stay in the temple premises during festivities, in the name of tradition. These girls are called Mathammas. They are forbidden to marry and must earn their living by dancing at the Hindu temples.

Child rights campaigners added that in some cases these young girls have to be bare-chested with only garlands and jewels covering them. In some others, girls are made to carry pots of liquor as part of the celebrations.

“As you travel through the region, the names keep changing, but the fact is that women are being forced into prostitution in the name of rituals,” said Priyamvada Mohan Singh, a criminology professor who carried out a survey in 2016 on the devadasi tradition for the Indian government.

She added, “The tradition exists in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. We have documented many cases during our research.”

NHRC claims that the practices violated the children’s rights and has asked both Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh governments to respond in four weeks, says media reports.