These women are traditionally known as Devadasi or “servants of God”. The practice is steeped in over a thousand years of accepted local tradition and history and it is common practice for the families of the girls to dedicate their children to a lifetime of exploitation, risking their lives to HIV-related illnesses. Every day, girls, most of whom have only just reached the age of puberty, are sold into the sex trade in the name of religion their parents acting as their pimps.
In reality, rather than being the revered servants of the Goddess Yellamma the women are treated as the sex the objects of truck drivers and bored businessmen. They are exploited by “handlers” driven by greed instead of true religious devotion. Historically, Devadasi were the sacred, dancing priestesses of temples, but today most make their living on the streets – begging and selling sex for a few rupees, often the equivalent of as little as thirty pence. Although the practice was officially made illegal in 1988, there are currently 23,000 practicing Devadasi in the southern state of Karnataka alone.
The film explores how this archaic religious practice has become big business on the street corners and brothels of new India. VBS talks to the women who were forced into the trade and visit brothel madams who feel honoured and proud to forfeit their bodies. Along the journey Sarah also meets a gay cross-dressing Devadasi and hears of his experiences.
From the temple to the brothel, VBS uncover just what it means to be a Devadasi in modern India. Does the Goddess still exist? Or is she just part of an elaborate con, designed to persuade vulnerable families to sell their children into the sex trade?
SEX AND THE GODDESS is available to view on www.vbs.tv
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