One aspect of Indian identity | Milaap

One aspect of Indian identity

India has a rich cultural heritage. It is a land of customs and traditions; festivals and celebrations; religions and languages. It’s impossible to walk down a street without finding a place of worship along the way. Diversity is the essence of Indian identity; and religious practices are no exception to it. Every region has its own deity and a unique way to worship them. I’m no expert on religion or Indian cultural heritage; I cannot even justify its magnificent history with a few humble words such as mine. However as a native Indian, I have had a privilege to observe a little of its grandeur. It’s colorful and varied; serene and fervent. [caption id="attachment_4162" align="aligncenter" width="700"]One unique tradition: A donkey being worshiped in hopes of better rain One unique tradition: A donkey being worshiped in hopes of better rain[/caption]Milaap fellowship provided me with an opportunity to experience the rural Indian reality. Living in a panchayat town in Belgaum district of Karnataka, my work has frequently brought me in contact with former Devadasis. Devadasi1, a term every Indian can speculate about but cannot fully understand.Who is a Devadasi? What are roots and origins of this system? How does one become a former Devadasi? How did MASS came into existence?As I sat in the small room of MASS2 headquarters in Ghatprabha, these questions kept buzzing around my mind. Curiosity provoked me to enquire; sensitivity advised me to ignore. The debate continued for what seemed like an eternity. In the end, I decided to ask the only question which wasn't intrusive. Shobha Gasti (former executive director and member of management committee of MASS) was the only person I could communicate with because of the language barrier. So I asked her, “How did MASS came into existence?” But this wasn't the only thing Shobha told me. She told me her life story. It wasn't an interview. It was just two people talking and sharing their feelings and thoughts. And at the end of the day, Shobha was no longer a former Devadasi for me. Shobha is a mother of two well-educated children who want to pursue MBA. Shobha is one of the founding members of MASS, an NGO working for empowerment of Dalit and ex-Devadasi women and their children in Belgaum district of Karnataka. Shobha is a woman whose childhood was taken away from her; she was dedicated to a local deity so that her parents could provide better for her siblings. Shobha is a woman who was sexually exploited by a close relative because her parents were poor and needed money. Shobha is a daughter who regularly visits her parents and enjoys spending time with her family. Shobha is a woman who refused to lead a life of exploitation, completed her education and today lives a financially independent and dignified life.[caption id="attachment_4164" align="aligncenter" width="800"]A self help group of former Devadasis A self help group of former Devadasis[/caption]After talking with Shobha, I realized that I can never truly understand Devadasi system. All I could do was gather information; but information cannot provide understanding. However, I was content. There was no need to understand. Meeting with this amazing woman with a shy smile but confident demeanor was enough. And Shobha is only one such woman. India is a land of such people. A rich cultural heritage is just the outer layering. There is something bigger and more poetic which lies at the core of Indian existence. It defines and designs us. It would be unjust to give it one word; because no one word could possibly portray it. Not everyone was once a Devadasi, but everyone has a story worth telling and yet everyone is much more than that story. And this is just one aspect of Indian identity.__________________________________________1 Devadasi, meaning a servant of God, is a system where young girls (mainly of Dalit community) are dedicated to a local deity.2 Mahila Abhivruddi Mattu Samrakshana Samsthe