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Devdasis. Sati. Child marriages. Menstrual Taboos. All examples of religious exploitation of women. The Ram Rahim case is the latest symptom of this disease that must be eradicated.
Recently the states of Punjab and Haryana had violent outbursts, when the self styled godman – Gurmeet Ram Rahim was convicted of sexually harassing his women followers also known as ‘sadhvis’. This is not the first case of exploitation of women in the name of religion and sadly this will not be the last. For years the concept of ‘Devdasis’ is prevalent in South India where young girls are identified at an early age to be the ervers of god but in reality lead a life of subjugation and abuse.
The concept of having sadhvis/ devdasis or those who wish to commit themselves to serving god is not new. In ancient India this practice was followed in its purest form and the sadhvis were respected and given the status of demi – goddess. However, the knowledge present in ancient scriptures have been modified and twisted to make them misogynistic and detrimental to women as men have usually been the interpreters and transmitters of this literature. Attitudes have developed around such patriarchal interpretations of religious belief and have hence shaped the social and cultural contexts of resulting in the malpractice of ancient teachings.
There have been news reports of women being forced into becoming various similar godmens’ servers against their wishes or due to their family’s financial condition. In most cases, they are physically harassed in these places. Fortunately when these complaints have been investigated, justice has prevailed with the errant people being punished.
In this particular case, one of the complainants has said that her family was a major follower of the above mentioned baba and hence she was sent in his seva. It is sad that such a horrible instance has happened in the name of god and religion. But then again religion has been used adversely to invoke fear in the believers. The inhuman practice of sati was also carried out in the name of religion. It took a sustained campaign to eradicate that evil from our society and today another campaign might be needed to stop these horrendous practices from spreading its tentacles.
Recent news mentions that currently former devadasis who braved the stigma and social pressures have formed self-help groups and are fighting to stop other children from being dedicated to what is not as it is ostensibly called a holy calling to the temples but a direct path into sexual exploitation. Similarly families need to be careful and do a thorough check if they believe that the daughter of their family should enter any religious service.
Service to God has to be a personal choice. It needs to come from the core of a person’s heart if she wants to dedicate her life to such a cause. It cannot be forced upon someone and should definitely not be a road to sexual harassment and abuse. Lets ensure that there are no more similar crimes in the name of the one power we all look up to believe in.
Gender bias needs to be removed from our society and that can only happen when there is a complete overhaul of mindset and thinking across, caste, class and religions.