Monday, January 13, 2014

Hoping for Hope

Life is beautiful. What with the 46” LED screens and surround sound home theatre systems we own and the snazzy gadgets that adorn our kitchens. Not to forget those premium four wheelers that we cozy ourselves into on our way to give in to the gastronomical delights that the city’s finest has to offer. 

Oh yes, life is beautiful – for you and me.

But amidst all the luxury and the cushioning we have around us, sometimes, just sometimes it becomes necessary to take a small peek outside the window and into what life truly has to offer to those other than us. Not just to make us value and appreciate what we have, but to know that we can make a difference. 

I ended 2013 with that peek; a peek that opened my eyes to the life some women in our country face each day. A peek that made me look beyond my “beautiful” world into one those women are trying to make livable...let alone beautiful. A peek into how they are rising against all odds to live a normal life, to look into the mirror and not hang their heads in shame. A peek into the lives of Devadasis who had decided to look up and move on.

Many of you might wonder who these Devadasis are. It’s not your fault if you are not aware; I blame the society that we co-exist in, the one that conveniently shields us away from anything out of the ordinary. 

Mahadevi runs a goat rearing business in Shegunshi, Belgaum, KA
Source: Milaap.org
Devadasis. As the name suggests, they are but servants of God. Young girls are “married” to the temple goddess and are expected to serve the temple through their lifetime.  What began as a religious practice generations ago is now engulfed by prostitution. Yes, you read it right. Today, the practice has been banned and termed illegal. However, young girls continue to be forced into being Devadasis in smaller towns and villages across the country.

While violating the law and pursuing abolished practices is a norm in India, what is a little known fact as far as this practice is concerned is the ordeal these women and girls are put through. More often than not, it is family members who force these hapless women into the trade. Yes, I call it a trade because it has little to do with Temples and more to do with prostitution today.  A dire living and a social stigma to carry on for life; there is really not much left for them to go by. Most get bogged down by this generosity bestowed by society. Most. But there are some who dare to defy, dare to look up with their head held high and make a choice. They choose to be a Kaplana Chawla or a Kiran Bedi in their own way, in their own right.

I took a peek into the lives of these brave women through the window called Milaap

In today’s world when we give up on the slightest setback, imagine these women who have only known of a life full of failures. When we turn desolate and pessimist over career moves and failed romances, imagines these women who have never known focus or love in their lives. All they have seen is lust and the commoditization of their bodies in society.

Milaap, a micro lending organization has begun an initiative called the Hope Project to wipe away the myths that surround Devadasis and help these women build their lives. To truly abolish this practice and prevent young girls from falling prey to it again.

If the grit shown by these women is not enough, their method of bringing about a change in their lives definitely is admirable. Charity and donations for finances are not words that exist in their dictionaries. They take loans, through organizations like Milaap. Loans; which they repay with full interest.


Take for example the story of Mahananda. She was married off to the temple at 12, and sold to a trader from Sangli by her Uncles in the greed for money. At the tender age of 15, Mahananda became a “Temple Prostitute”. When she was 5 months into her first pregnancy she was made to abort her child and return to her “Devadasi” duties. Only when she was able to pay off the trader did she get a chance to escape. Instead of resigning to fate, Mahananda met an activist and began her life afresh. She took up stitching and ensured her daughters don’t get caught into the trap like she did.

Many like Mahananda have vowed to make a difference to their and their children’s lives. Roopa made a new beginning with a pan and photocopy shop, Mahadevi began a goat rearing business while Housabai sells Bananas. There are many such Mahananda’s and Housabai’s across villages in India who want to stand up on their own feet and become resilient. All they need is help, our help. With loans as minimum as Rs 500, we can help change lives. This is not charity; it is what we call empowerment.

To eradicate a social stigma is no mean task, esp. in the Indian society that is built on a foundation of rigid mindsets and strict beliefs. Who better to help uproot it than us? We; the urban and educated strata of the society who have the intelligence and understanding to know the difference between right and wrong. To empower the needy and develop the nation. Because development does not only mean building nuclear weapons and infrastructure, it also means giving each individual in India the right to live with dignity, respect and in a manner they choose to.

Empowering these women would mean helping them build a beautiful life. Maybe not like the one you and I have... but one that allows their children to inherit respect, education, independence and self reliance from them and not victimization, despair, loss and shame.

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To fund people and projects of your choice please visit The Hope Project


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32 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing about the Hope project, Seeta...
    I'm associated with Milaap and think all of us need to own a part of this universe so that the ones who have less than us can also live a happy life... spreading happiness would mean an overall happy word and happier life...

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    1. Absolutely! If we cannot help create awareness, we dont really serve a purpose.. do we...

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  2. That was an inspiring post Seeta.. I am associated with SOS childrens village. Actually my family is :)

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    1. :) If we can help someone live with dignity, nothing like it right? This is just a tiny step in that direction...

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  3. Thanks for the post. It is a very nice and innovative way to ensure adequate financial assistance(and not charity) is made available to deserving, hardworking people.

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    1. Yup, I realized post that meet that not many of us are aware of this atrocious system or for that matter about organizations like Milaap...

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  4. Everyone deserves to live with dignity and this is the least we can do. Will look at the site and see how I can contribute.

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    1. Absolutely Purba! Would be lovely if you could do that :)

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  5. I feel so helpless and sad .... it's depressing that life is unfair to so many... I couldn't attend the meet ... I wish I could so something...

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    1. No problem Naba, the concept of Milaap is such that we can all do something in whatever little way we can :)

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  6. One's own relatives doing this to tiny mites-how low can one fall?

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    1. Sick isn't it? :( glad there are organizations like Milaap around to help make a difference.

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  7. This is a fabulous initiative, Seeta. I just contributed yesterday. Nice work writing for such a noble cause.

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    1. Kudos to you for that Rachna! :) You know, Milaap introduced us to two such Devadasis at the meet. Standing up there on the podium, talking to us...All I could feel was a lot of respect for them..

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  8. Thanks for bringing it to notice. I have heard about this terrible ritual before and was under the notion that this has been abolished completely now.

    Being a father to a daughter, it only saddens me - what to tell her to expect from the world. I am looking forward to whatever little help I can do to the cause.

    On the similar note, I wanted to share something with you: http://www.abhrapal.in/2013/12/05/the-mane/ Something that I wrote in protest, sometime back.

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    1. I can understand.. and I so hope all fathers are as sensitive as you are. Will surely go through your post.

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  9. Thanks for sharing this Seeta. I've read about this 'devdasis' earlier and really they live a tragic life and often are forced to prostitution. If not, they have to serve the so called 'priests' who consider them as slaves.

    I'll definitely contribute for this project.

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    1. Thanks Maniparna... even if one person who reads this contributes, It would make me feel the post has served its purpose :)

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  10. Very nicely expressed, Seeta. I had watched a movie that dealt with Devadasis. It's sad but true that its scope/requirement is no longer confined to what it initially stood for - just like the caste-system - as time passed by, rich influential & holy people like priests etc degraded it to its present form...

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    1. Yeah, its the story of our society :(

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  11. A noble cause!
    They deserve a better dignified life.
    Great read (and that reminds me... mine is long overdue).

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    1. Yes Maam! Was wondering about your post :)

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  12. Milaap is a good initiative and I am glad Indi organised Milaap-meets.

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    1. Absolutely.. it was my first meet, def. a good first impression :)

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  13. Good thought for a noble cause...
    Very inspiring post Seeta Bodke!!!

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    1. Thanks Veena.. had to do something after I heard about it..

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  14. Well written Seeta, a great insight of writing skills you have done a great job by puting forward this heart filling writing, Hope begins. and hope The misery ends.

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  15. Needful post and powerfully written, Seeta!

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    1. Thanks Suresh! Your views always matter :)

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  16. very inspiring and motivating .....Seeta....Devdasis pratha has always been a question of doubt in many parts of country....Project hope will definitely be a great success ......Needless to say your contribution, by writing and telling everyone about this menace of society, is great job done !

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    1. True... hopefully we can make a difference... :)

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