Many embrace us but no one protects"


by Rebecca Bowers


In an anaylsis about Devadasis in South India, who are invariably Dalit women, Rebecca Bowers has exposed the relationship between various foms of structural violence against Devadasis and the lack of protection against them in South India.

The analysis, strived to explore why young girls are dedicated to the service of a local deity (commonly known as temple prostituion) continues decades since its criminalisation.


In study, Rebecca points out that "an analytical framework of structural violence contributes to our understanding of the continuation of the devadasi institution against the backdrop of a contested past; drawing our focus away from ambiguous and speculative histories, and to structures of poverty and disparity that remain the reality for many of these women and their families."


" This is vital for those seeking to address the underlying foundations of the devadasi practice, which include caste and gender prejudices, rural poverty, and additional factors such as religion, education and colonial legacy, which unfortunately, we have been unable to explore.' she adds


Bowers says that with such structural violence, there is no chance of abolishing the Devandasi system. "Whilst these deep-rooted structures remain in place, so too will the devadasi system, evidenced by its continuing existence despite numerous attempts to abolish it."


"Indeed, the interlocking nature of these structures is manifest as this thesis has illustrated, reiterating that no single entity is solely responsible for the continuation of the devadasi system."


Consequently, she says" these relationships must be examined together if we are to comprehend the entrenched and enduring nature of the devadasi practice and furthermore, the sexual violence and discrimination experienced by Dalit women across India."


The analysis also say that "Though one could criticise Farmer"s theoretical interpretation of structural violence for denying agency, the concept of agency is problematic regarding the devadasi institution if we recall that entry into it is mostly involuntary."


Citing the work of various scholars, the analysis reveals that: many women who work in the sex trade do so as a survival strategy, or become part of it when other options are unavailable.

  • Women in devadasi communities were, and still are, subject to structural inequalities, and for the most part, help has been, unavailable to most Devadasis.

She conculdes that " structural violence is a complex, multifaceted and constricting phenomenon, influencing who will suffer, and the forms the suffering will take. For Dalit women in rural southern India these forms include state inaction, discrimination, poverty, limited education, and the devadasi practice itself, which is a manifestation of these and additional entities of structural violence."


"Alone, these factors are damaging and inhibiting, but since they are mutually constitutive a person susceptible to one of them such as a devadasi, who endures discrimination because of her profession, gender, and caste, is susceptible to all of them."


Furthermore, the analysis points out, "the cyclical and encompassing nature of structural violence means the violence experienced by a devadasi is often visited upon her children. These constricting qualities of structural violence have emphatically upheld the devadasi institution decades since criminalisation, meaning it will only be adequately addressed when its contributing factors are."


" Whilst issues such as caste, gender and land tenure rights remain unequal and subject to state level and local hegemonies, structural violence will continue to dominate the lives of thousands of women and young girls in southern India today via the devadasi system and corresponding institutions of inequality."

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