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SARAH HARRIS: The first thing that strikes you when you come
to India is a sense of extreme contrasts.
While some people are still shitting off the side of
railway lines and eating from banana leaves, other people
are drinking Frappuccinos and wearing Gucci sunglasses.
Along with this feeling of progress and moving forward,
there's still this undercurrent of tradition and
religion and superstition and an even more deeply ingrained
caste system.
I didn't realize quite how sharp these contrasts between
new and old India were until I came here last year to
research an article about sex trafficking.
And on my very first day here, I met a group of temple
prostitutes who told me about this ancient Hindu system
where prepubescent girls are dedicated to a goddess, and
for the rest of their lives, they will become sex slaves of
the temple.
The name of that system is devadasi.
This train's a little bit like The Darjeeling Limited, except
we have cockroaches sleeping under our beds.
And there's no one serving sweet lime.
So in the beginning, being a devadasi had nothing to do
with prostitution.
In medieval India, they were glamorous temple dancers and
held high social status.
They performed sacred religious rituals and danced
for loyalty in the name of a goddess called Yellamma.
Over the centuries, the link between the devadasis and
their temples gradually diminished, along with their
social status.
They became the paid mistresses of priests, then
kings, and later, rich landowners.
In the 19th century, Western missionaries tried to abolish
the tradition, calling it grotesque and immoral, driving
the devadasis underground.
Today, devadasis are no different to common street
hookers, servicing drunk truck drivers and bored businessmen.
Even though the practice has been illegal for over 20
years, up to 3,000 girls are still being secretly dedicated
every year.
We traveled to the border town of Sangli, which straddles the
two southern Indian states of Karnataka and Maharastra.
Its red light district is home to hundreds of devadasi sex
workers, and that afternoon, we were invited there by
Anitha, one of its most successful brothel owners.
She's a member of an NGO called SANGRAM, which fights
to empower locals sex workers.
Communication was pretty painful, as our interpreter
Somashekar was having some trouble with his English.
Everybody in the houses next door--
this whole street--
is also sex workers like Anitha?
SARAH HARRIS: So all the neighborhood.
And they're all friends who live around here?
Everybody is friends?
SARAH HARRIS: So when the customer comes inside, the
door closes.
And this--
SARAH HARRIS: She's not a customer?
She is also a sex worker?
SOMASHEKAR: A sex worker.
SARAH HARRIS: And she uses this room?
SOMASHEKAR: That's another one of Anitha's friends who's
lying in there.
SARAH HARRIS: This is what she's saying?
SARAH HARRIS: Tell me again.
So are you talking as you?
Are you telling me--
SARAH HARRIS: So you are a sex worker.
SOMASHEKAR: I am a sex worker.
SARAH HARRIS: You are a sex worker.
And you came to Anitha's room, and--
SARAH HARRIS: You work in this room, and Anitha
works in this room.
SOMASHEKAR: This room.
SARAH HARRIS: So you all work together.
SARAH HARRIS: The whole place is completely difference to
what I thought it would be.
I kind of imagined these really seedy, anonymous
hotel-looking brothels.
And actually, there's kids running around everywhere.
There's women doing their laundry, making lunch.
And it kind of feels like quite a
tight-knit little community.
The ladies of Sangli wouldn't let me leave without showing
me the temple around the corner.
It seemed like wherever there were brothels, the goddess
Yellamma was never far away.
For Anitha and her friends, being a devadasi was nothing
to be ashamed of.
Sex work was their choice.
They had condoms, power in numbers, and SANGRAM looking
after them.
But these were just the lucky few.
For the vast majority of devadasis,
prostitution isn't a choice.
It's forced upon them, and most often by their parents.
Like most Hindu legends, the story of the goddess Yellamma
is long, convoluted, and surreal.
However many times we heard it, it still
didn't make much sense.
But it seems to go something like this.
The whole ordeal begins when her son is ordered to chop her
head off by her husband after he catches her spying on two
people getting frisky by a lake.
After a complex process of death, reincarnation, and a
load of fat Hindu gods with blue skin and gold bikinis,
the goddess Yellamma was born.
She fled to the villages of Karnataka and became a symbol
of worship for the lowest Hindu castes.
So after a really sweaty 10-hour train journey, we've
finally arrived in this town called Mudhol
up in Northern Karnataka.
And it's in the villages around here that we've been
told has the highest concentration of devadasi
women in India.
An estimated 23,000 women in this part of India have been
dedicated to the goddess.
And roughly half of those will have resorted to sex work in
order to feed their families.
SARAH HARRIS: We traveled to the outskirts of this dusty
transit town to meet two teenage devadasi girls.
SARAH HARRIS: Madigas are considered filthy and
polluting and are only permitted to work in the
lowliest positions, as street cleaners, sewage collectors,
and of course, prostitutes.
When we took the girls out shopping, they seemed
terrified of the higher castes recognizing them as devadasis,
which they did.
SARAH HARRIS: It was surreal to see the reaction they got.
The shopkeepers wouldn't even look them in the eye.
SARAH HARRIS: So now it seems this religious ritual is just
a justification for poor families to
pimp out their daughters.
SARAH HARRIS: It was strange sitting with Belavva's family
on the floor of their one room hut, knowing it's also the
place where she has sex with customers while her brothers
and sisters wait outside.
SARAH HARRIS: Karnataka is one of India's largest producers
of sugar cane.
Hundreds of trucks pass through towns
like this every day.
The roadside can be a scary place.
Horny drivers and bored agricultural workers gather
here, looking for ways to spend their wages.
They are one of the main transmitters of HIV throughout
India, spreading the virus through the country's
extensive road network, putting girls like Mala and
Belavva at risk of this deadly disease.
SARAH HARRIS: Back in Sangli, we were invited to meet
another devadasi called Pandu.
We were told she was different, but we weren't
prepared for just how different.
SARAH HARRIS: Every morning, he spent two hours polishing
brass Yellamma statues and blessing his beloved shrine.
SARAH HARRIS: Can you ask him to show me how to make chai?
Tea powder.
Wow, that's a lot of sugar.
Fucking hell.
Going, going, going, going, going.
SARAH HARRIS: Can we watch him dance today?
We have to persuade him, sweet talk him.
Ah, wow.
Wow, Pandu.
Who's this guy?
You put a sari over his head.
SARAH HARRIS: He's got money between his teeth.
Your best friend, Sudir.
Oh, wow, that's a nice photo.
Wow, thank you.
SARAH HARRIS: Later that day, at our hotel, Pandu showed us
his favorite Bollywood videos and the famous
Sangli condom trick.
SARAH HARRIS: You're about to witness a demonstration of the
classic Sangli condom trick that Pandu has just taught me
when his male customers don't want to use a condom.
SARAH HARRIS: I think I lost.
Pandu may want a better life for his daughter, but for many
other devadasis, there's a lot of money to be made in
recruiting the next generation.
Now, we're on our way to another village, about five
kilometers outside of Mudhol.
And most of women who live there are from the madiga
caste, and so most of them are
vulnerable to becoming devadasis.
One of the interesting things about this village is that
we're going to be able to go to the house of a devadasi
woman who's made a real career out of prostitution.
And she's built this enormous house in the middle of the
village as a kind of symbol of the her success.
So she can become a role model to the other girls living in
the village that becoming a devadasi is
a good way of life.
The legendary owner, Champa, doesn't even live here.
She's too busy turning tricks in Bombay.
Inside, shiny display cabinets of unused crockery line the
walls as testaments to her success.
There were groups of village children roaming around the
house to gawp at her flickering color TV sets and
shelves of broken electrical equipment.
The message is clear--
prostitution is a lucrative business.
So this is the necklace, the muthu, that the devadasi women
wear when they get dedicated.
And hers is just hanging on the wall of her mud hut.
She's an old lady called Shavvavva, and she's one of
the oldest devadasi women in the village.
And I've just been told that she brought the very first
radio to this village.
No one had ever seen a radio before she brought it here.
Walking through the village, we notice Yellamma's presence
The locals told us that all devadasis in the area were
preparing themselves for the full moon festival, which is
apparently the most important event in
the Yellamma calendar.
After hearing so much about the famous full moon festival
in Saundatti, we drove four hours out of town to catch the
first day of this month-long celebration of Yellamma.
Just up there in the center of that big arch is the face of
the goddess Yellamma.
That's the entrance to her temple here in Saundatti.
Over the course of the 28 days, more than half a million
people will pass through the temple doors.
A heaving shantytown springs up around the
famous Yellamma shrine.
The place is filled with garish Hindu icons, Bollywood
music, sticky sweets, and the symbolic red and yellow colors
of the goddess Yellamma.
Nice to meet you.
We're not allowed-- we're not gonna take the camera inside.
SARAH HARRIS: This is the Yellamma temple, which is like
the main attraction of Saundatti.
It's here that for hundreds and hundreds of years, all the
devadasi girls have come for their dedication ceremonies,
which are now illegal.
And we're not allowed in, so we just have to shoot from
outside, but you can see hundreds of people walking
around, praying to the goddess.
Everything around the temple is really, really colorful,
and you've got all these red and yellow dyes, which the
women put on their foreheads.
And this is to kind of
represent the goddess Yellamma.
And the green bangles are in rows all along the side of the
road here, and they're the bangles that they put on the
girls during their devadasi dedication ceremonies.
And tonight is the moon celebration, and they'll smash
their bracelets as a symbol of widowhood.
This is also one of the places where the women traffickers
come and pick up potential prostitutes.
The brothel madams will travel from big cities like Bombay
and Pune and come to Saundatti to these festivals to pick up
young girls to traffic.
Amidst all the religious fervor, there was a distinct
feeling of secrets going on behind closed doors.
Families are offered a generous fee in return for
their young daughters, often under the
pretense of a better future.
But it's here that the next generation of young devadasi
prostitution are found.
What we really wanted to do was watch a real dedication
ceremony, but that didn't look like it was going to happen.
And as a bunch of pasty Westerners with cameras, we
weren't exactly inconspicuous.
Luckily, we met an ex-devadasi and social
activist called Sitavva.
She agreed to stage a mock dedication ceremony to give us
an idea of what really goes on behind the scenes.
SARAH HARRIS: Leaving Saundatti, we felt disturbed
by everything we'd seen.
The bright colors and energy of the festival were
overshadowed by the seedy reality of a religious
ceremony that condones child prostitution.
Our last stop before we headed home was in the small village
of Sarol, where we'd arranged to meet three generations of
devadasi women, all from the same family.
When we arrived, we were told that the daughter had recently
died of HIV.
SARAH HARRIS: India is a land of extremes, polarized by
extravagant new wealth and ancient poverty.
Everywhere you look, there's a battle being waged between the
traditional forces of religion, castes, and
superstition and the inevitable force of Western
Nowhere are these clashes more evident than in the plight of
the devadasis, where religious devotion has been exploited
for commercial gain.
The devadasi tradition is destroying families and
communities, generation after generation.
And with the advent of AIDS and HIV, the practice now has
a deadly price tag.
And today, any remnants of the devadasis' cultural origins
have all but disappeared.
All that's left is a system that turns children into
prostitutes and their parents into pimps.
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Prostitutes of God (Documentary)

3282 Folder Collection
阿多賓 published on August 24, 2015
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