Two sides of one coin

By Ritushree Dutta

Oppression and domination have been the key factors to many of society’s problems. Yet somehow through all the turmoil and continued hesitation to end it, we the people seem to be blind to those that cause it in the first place. While I, a female in the United States of America, enjoy the freedoms life has to offer knowing that people will fight for me if my rights are violated, a girl in the rural corners of India falls asleep stripped of her rights and her clothes knowing that no matter how lurid her cries are, there would be nobody to stand up for her. I was born in Kolkata, West Bengal, but I grew up in Bangalore, Karnataka before I moved to the United States in the fall of 2016. I grew up only knowing life in the developed, more liberal city. Life in the rural areas of Karnataka was almost hidden to me until a few weeks ago when I learned about the devadasi culture that is still eminent in today’s time. The Devadasi culture in rural India traces back to the early 6th century CE. The tradition of marrying young girls to the temple in service of the almighty eventually turned into a culture of female prostitution. The root of the issue lies not in the practice of this culture but in the mindset and motivation of people who continue to adhere to and encourage the principles of this practice. And how do these women who have been subjects to such miserable practices force their own daughters to go through the same? It is simple – Fear, Poverty and Desperation.

Fear of the power that the temple holds drives these villagers to continue this tradition. What initially started out as a lifetime of servitude to the god has now become a lifetime of prostitution to the temple-men whose true motives are cloaked behind their identity of being an incarnation of the male deity. Studies in the field of social psychology show that people with low self-esteem tend to be easily persuaded and it is well justified by the environment in these villages. Women, having been oppressed throughout history tend to be under the stereotype threat when around men and over the years, continued oppression along with idleness towards eradication of this behavior created a learned helplessness among women- a feeling that no matter what they do, they cannot rid themselves of their fate. This psychological concept of their destiny being in control of the men in their society supposes their low self-esteem and thereby makes them more susceptible to persuasion and the extremes of societal conformity. This is best explained by the Lewinian formulation which states that “behavior is a function of, or an interaction of, both personality and environment” (Rhoads).

Throughout their juvenile days, these women are subjected to prostitution.

Women in the villages of Karnataka are shackled by their fate, and delivered by it into the hands of the highest bidder. These helpless women, who are raped at an extremely young and frail age, spend the rest of their lives as slaves not to the bidder, but to their unfortunate circumstances. Throughout their juvenile days, these women are subjected to prostitution. The ridiculousness of this lies in the fact that the women have no income until retirement! To keep a roof over their head and food in their stomach, they put themselves out on the fields, ploughing and seeding the fortunes they will never reap. In these villages where the Devadasi culture persists, it is effortless to note that apart from regular household chores and child-care, women have no opportunities to dedicate their labor for dough. And for such situations, it is only just that education and schooling seem to be the barrier and not the gateway to a good life. Just listening to and reading about the stories of these women breaks my heart to know how miserable their lives are. In this process of struggle and success, these women subject themselves to numerous risks that threaten their life- STDs like HIV, AIDS, HPV, and many more malignant diseases. Most devadasis suffer from PTSD in their declining years and don’t have access to any support or treatment. We, as educated and more progressed people are responsible for letting humanity rot in remote corners of this world. Communities and societies such as the devadasis continue to harrow the effects of our negligence.

With each key I press on the keyboard of my laptop to put together the letters of these last few sentences, I think to myself of how lucky I am to be the side of the flipped coin that falls faced upwards. Each of us were born into different lives, and fortunate people like you and I were born for a very specific purpose. Every now and then, I tumble over the question about my purpose in life. Maybe it is not just to make the best of what I am given and emerge successful. Maybe the purpose isn’t just mine. Maybe it’s ours. Nature created our lives like a tapestry, each of us a twine entangled to tell a story that is completely unique to ourselves and somehow, they paint a picture so lustrous that even a thousand words cannot describe. But what we fail to notice is that no matter how jubilant the colors are or how flawless the brush is, it is the artist who creates the balance on the blank canvas. With all that nature has given us, maybe our purpose is to maintain that balance. Given all the odds, let us make the best of what we have been given. Give to those who have not gotten, and truly make this world a better place to live in…

Author of this blog, Ritushree Dutta, is a member of the recently launched Youth Team of Yes She Rises. She will be starting grade 11 at Ardery Kell this fall. Ritushree was recently awarded ‘As a Girl who makes a difference” by Women’s + Girls Research Alliance, UNC Charlotte. Ritushree lives with her parents in Charlotte, NC.

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