Jogini stories: Yamini

Yamini (name changed to protect identity) is just 11 years of age. However, she already wore the chain made of black thread and beads that identified her as a Jogini, having been dedicated as a small child.  It was her mother that had decided to dedicate her, following the superstitious belief that to do so would earn the goddess Yellama’s protection for her other children.

After being dedicated, Yamini wore the traditional garments of a Jogini and went about earning additional income for her family by begging.  But, during the past year, Pratigya’s Jogini Prevention team came to learn about Yamini, and decided to approach her family.

Alongside local community leaders they explained to the family about the Jogini Act, which makes the practice illegal, as well as describing the health risks and abuse their daughter would be likely to face. Through the counsel of the team, the family realized that Yamini’s future as a Jogini would be bleak.


It was a happy day when Yamini’s mother removed the thali from around Yamini’s neck (pictured above) and swore that she would not let her daughter practice as a Jogini.  Instead, Yamini’s parents plan to arrange a marriage for Yamini after she turns 18 in order to secure her future: a much brighter prospect.  

It was a happy day when Yamini’s mother removed the thali from around Yamini’s neck (pictured above) and swore that she would not let her daughter practice as a Jogini.  Instead, Yamini’s parents plan to arrange a marriage for Yamini after she turns 18 in order to secure her future: a much brighter prospect.




Serving the Goddess: William Dalrymple writes about the life of a Devadasi

Acclaimed writer, William Dalrymple wrote ‘Nine Lives: in Search of the Sacred in Modern India‘, in 2009.  The book explores the recounds the lives and experiences of nine Indians, following nine difficernt religious paths.  The people he has chosen to feature reflect the vast and varies, religious kaleidoscope of India,  although the stories could certainly be said to focus on more ‘extreme’ cases of religious observance.

One of the nine lives, is that of Rani Bai, a thirty-something lady and Devdasi. William Dalrymple’s account explains the story surrounding the Goddess Yellama, to whom as a Devadasi, Rani was dedicated at the age of six.

However, it is his portrait of Rani which is rich and real – as are the other eight in the book -  that makes his writing so compelling.  Here, there is no judgement passed, and he recounts the positive things that Rani has to say about her life and her goddess, as much as the poverty, abuse and disease to which she is subjected.

William Dalrymple’s story of Rani has recently been published as an article in the New Yorker online, and it is surely worth reading for a visceral and beautifully written insight into the life of a Devadasi.

Click here to read ‘Serving the Goddess’.



Making the “Jogini Act” Count

You might be surprised to learn that the practice of dedicating young women to become Joginis is actually illegal in India. In fact it has been against the law for about 25 years… but the practice nevertheless continues.

žThe Devadasi Prevention & Abolition of Dedication Act (“Jogini Act”) passed into law in Andhra Pradesh in March1988. But after it was passed, no framework of rules were ever put in place for the police or legal practitioners to use in order to enforce the act. In fact, in the 25 years since the act came into force only eight cases have ever been filed under it. Of these, two resulted in acquittal, four are pending and two are still under investigation.

Pratigya has therefore filed something called ‘Public Interest Litigation’ before Honorable High Court. This essentially calls for proper rules to be framed, to enable real enforcement of the Jogini Act. Whilst the case is still pending, the Government has taken concrete steps as a result of our litigation.

In order to gather the information that would be required, a ‘One Man Commission’ was set up to investigate the issue and to make recommendations. Pratigya has developed a strong relationship with the Commissioner and submitted a dossier of evidence to him. His final report and recommendations was submitted very recently, in July 2013, and we are heartened that much of our evidence and many of are suggestions are included in this report.

It will still take time for the legislative process to create and enact the new legal framework, but the ball is now rolling. We hope this will ultimately empower local law enforcement to take action to prevent future dedication of underage girls into a life of prostitution.



Pratigya girls learn to cook

At Pratigya Bhavan, our shelter home for the daughters of Joginis and those at risk of being dedicated, we have started a new programme for the girls. Every couple of weeks they will spend their saturday afternoons with teacher trainer and keen amateur chef, Ingrid (from Chile), to learn some of the basics of cooking.

Starting out with sweet recipes for the first few weeks, the girls have already made and decorated cookies, and learned how to make a traditional South American sweet with condensed milk and coconut.

“We thought that starting out with sweets was a good idea because not only are they simple, but the girls get to enjoy the treats they have made at the end of the afternoon, at snack time. It certainly made them interested in learning!” - Ingrid

After they have finished with sweets, they will learn to prepare other dishes, including spicy Indian curries and bread. Living away from their mothers means that they are not learning to prepare food by helping out in the kitchen at home, so the idea is both for the girls to have fun cooking, but also to teach them life skills. 

And it’s not just about the cooking! Whilst preparing the food, Ingird reminds the girls about good hygeine habits, such as hand-washing and cleaning surfaces.  They also start out by exploring the recipe, reading it together, understanding the weights and measures used, and doing the maths together when the quantities need to be changed. Each girl is also creating their own recipe book, by writing the recipes down and pasting in pictures.

So far the girls have immensely enjoyed their cookery classes, and the fruits of the labour even more!



Tipamma, one of several Devadasi women that The Hindu reporter interviewed for their recent article, has a cynical attitude towards the prospects for change for women like her. Without the willingness to ‘confront the people and systems that caused us this state of affairs’ and to ‘challenge the powerful’, she believes that their is a long way to go before policy turns into practice.

At Pratigya, we are trying to do just that: our legal work is starting to pay dividends when it comes to genuinely enforcing the law in Andhra Pradesh, where dedication of women to the goddess Yelamma is prohibited under the 1988 Yogini Act. However, as The Hindu‘s article also points out, part of the problem is that the very people suffering from the continued practice of ritualized prostituion are not even themselves aware of the entitlements that they have under law: ‘the women in Holagallu haven’t even heard of any of these [benefits] clearly indicating loopholes in the implementation of the welfare measures.’

Through the creation of locally-based Jogini committees, staff at Pratigya have been able to teach the women about their rights, as well as to assist them in applying for benefits such as micro-finance loans, employment or training schemes, housing loans and ration cards. In turn, the members of the Joginis committees have become empowered as leaders within their communities, able to educate others in their villages of the dangers of dedicating their daughters into the life of a Devadasi, as well as the illegality of the practice. Others have started their own businesses and some are now standing for positions in local government.

However, of course Tipamma does have a point: until people from other castes start to empathise with the plight of the Dalit community, exploitation (such as that which the Devadasi system represents) will continue. Even with legal prohibition, the dedications of underage girls continues, often in an ‘underground’ fashion. As the journalist writes, ‘Conversation with some of these women indicates that it is possible that influential people from the higher castes may pay the Devadasi to… select a certain girl they fancy for dedication.’

Until attitudes change, the ‘solidarity’ which Tipamma is so pessimistic about may well prove elusive. However, it is greater understanding of the true circumstances in which they are forced to live, blighted by poverty, illiteracy and illness, that will lead to this understanding. Articles like this one in prestigious national newspapers like The Hindu can only serve to help.



Pratigya Girls Shape Up for Exercise

At Pratigya Shelter, we have introduced two new ‘life skills’ programmes for the girls. The cookery programme kicked off in July with three afternoons spent learning to make delicious sweet treats. The second of these programmes complements their lessons in food and nutrition nicely, by teaching the girls how to stay fit and healthy through exercise.

A volunteer from the U.K. has been helping them to develop a routine using simple exercises which the girls can perform safely on the open roof-deck at the shelter. Every two weeks, the girls have learned five new exercises, each with a different physical goal, such as cardio health (e.g. running or skipping), core strength (e.g. sit-ups or ‘plank’ position), or coordination (e.g. throwing & catching a ball). Divided into small groups, they do each activity for one minute, before switching onto the next. 

Each girl has been given special exercise journal with a page per exercise. Here, they can draw a little diagram to help them remember the exercise as well as make a note of their personal performance: for example, how many skips they did in one minute. This way the girls are encouraged to improve their fitness over time, by working to beat their previous scores.

Physical fitness is sometimes neglected in India, especially for girls and women, for whom running about or taking part in sports can be considered undignified.  However at the Pratigya Shelter, we recognise that getting fit is one of the keys to staying well, physically and mentally healthy.

Not only are the girls enjoying their work-out sessions, but they have been an inspiration to others: now several of Pratigya’s staff are determine to get fit too!



Micro-finance offers Joginis new direction

Since early 2013, Pratigya has started to roll out a programme of micro-finance loans through our network of Jogini committees.

These small loans, offered at low ratess of interest and with favourable repayment schedules, enable groups of Jogini and Dalit women to work together to start small businesses. So far, six businesses have been initiated including two chili businesses, two selling rice, and two selling vegetables and fruit respectively. Four of these are fully underway, and two businesses are still under development pending pruchase of equipment or premises.

For the chili business, the loans were used to purchase electrical chili grinding machines, as well as to construct premises for the businesses. The business owners either purchase chilis wholesale to grind into chili powder for re-sale, or individual customers may bring their own chilis to be ground for a fee. In the case of the rice, vegetable and fruit businesses, they operate on a simple model in which the goods are bought wholesale and then sold at a mark-up in markets or in the villages.

All four of the businesses in full operation are already going strong. The rice business is now making enough money to both support its group members, meet the costs of buying new rice supplies each month, and as of the last two months, to begin loan repayments with the requisite interest. One of chili businesses also reached this threshold last month and the vegetable and fruit businesses are both expected to do so in the next month. 

Pratigya is thrilled with the success of these businesses so far, and looks forward to using the interest gained on the initial loans to put back into funding further micro-finance loans. By supporting Jogini women to in find alternative means to generate an income for their families, they are able to leave behind the sex work that they formerly used to make a meager living. In addition, gaining the ability to run their own successful business is a step towards renewing dignity and self-confidence.



Vocational Training Brings Beautiful Changes for Women

We are greeted by a buzz of energy Tarika Centre, Pratigya’s vocational training centre in Bangalore. As well as providing a safe haven for women who have been trafficked, well over a hundred women attend the centre daily to take courses in a range of vocational skills. 

Often the women live in the local slums, and many have not completed an academic education, so the skills they learn at the Tarika Centre provides them with the opportunity to earn an income. For those who have formerly been trafficked, or forced into sex work, it also presents a way out and an alternative means to support themselves and their children.

One of the popular courses is in beauty therapy, a significant growth industry in India (estimates by PriceWaterhouseCoopers suggest a massive 20% increase in revenues annually). It’s a good option for many of the women because, once trained, they can launch their own small beauty businesses from their homes, with a low initial outlay. And today, the trainees are getting the chance for some real-world practice as we become their guinea-pigs for the day! It is hard to know who is more excited: the beauticians-in-the-making, or us, as we receive some amazing beauty treatments, from head massages, to facials to traditional henna skin designs.

Both staff and learners at the Tarika Centre exude warmth and confidence, engaging in their lessons with passion. It is a reminder that the benefits of gaining a skill, and the independence that can bring, is not just economic but also psychological. Women from the lowest castes in India are taught to expect little from life, so whilst these ladies might have been learning to make people look pretty on the outside, another, much more beautiful transformation is happening inside.