Dr. Beryl D’souza is the woman leading the project to raise awareness of the plight of the Dalits in India, in particular highlighting the plight of the millions of young girls subjected to state sanctioned prostitution and poverty.
She leads the newly emerging and multi-faceted Good Shepherd Healthcare Initiative, a stream of the India Group of OM Ministries dedicated to bringing human rights to the Dalit people of India through restoring health and well-being through medical services and preventative treatment.
We are delighted to support Beryl in her work and will follow the project over the coming months.=, starting with profiles of two of the women that she is trying to help.
Legmawa Harigen is a 24 year old woman who was dedicated to be a Devadasi at the age of four. She is from the village Maldinnai in Karnataka. Legmawa finished her primary education at a government school, however was dedicated by her parents in the hopes they would eventually have a son to support them in the future.
At the age of 16, Legmawa was forced into prostitution in Pune and Mumbai. For six years she was trafficked into the flesh trade. Her time in the city was faced with both physical and mental abuse. Often, Legmawa was cheated out of her earnings by the pimps and brothel managers. After a series of events, Legmawa’s parents were hospitalized and without the funds to pay the bills. Legmawa was forced to take a loan from her brothel house manager and subsequently became a bonded laborer, an immobilized prostitute at the brothel until her loan was paid in full.
Two years later, Legmawa returned to her home with her parents in Maldinnai. She has taken up a job as an agricultural worker in order to feed herself and her parents. As a Devadasi, Legmawa has no formal skills training and has no opportunities to do so in her village. She has no children, and will never be able to marry as dictated by the social customs of the Devadasi.
Legmawa is receiving regular visits by a peer educator in the form of social and spiritual support. She has benefitted from free medical camps and educational meetings. With proper skills training Legmawa might have a chance at receiving an extra income.
Laxmi Kegede, 26, is a mother of a two year old daughter and is from the village Shivapur. Before Laxmi was even born she was destined to be a Devadasi. Laxmi’s parents dedicated her while she was still in the womb, preventing her from going to school and having any chance at literacy. Upon puberty at age 16, Laxmi was sent to Mumbai as a commercial sex worker. For two years she worked in Mumbai as a forced prostitute, sending her wages home to her family. She paid for her sister’s wedding and any other needs the family had.
Laxmi eventually left Mumbai and moved to Golkak. For one year she practiced in Golkak but then moved back to her village with a partner.
It is here in her village that Laxmi gave birth to a girl. The father quickly abandoned Laxmi and daughter after a series of problems. Laxmi could not bring legal action against the father because the two were not legally married. Laxmi tried working for a social work NGO for a few months but could not continue due to her illiteracy. She now has a job in agriculture where she makes 50-60 rupees (approximately $1) a day, not nearly enough to cover the daily needs of her and her daughter.
Laxmi’s daughter became sick and she was forced to sell her sheep to pay for the medical treatment. Laxmi is left with no government support as she is not listed on the government Devadasi list. Laxmi could benefit from education and skills training so that she might have a sufficient income and the ability to send her daughter to school.
The images of the devadasi reproduced here are copyrighted © to Rachel Robichaux and may not be sold/reproduced for profit without explicit permission from Rachel.