Remarkable journey of Padma Shri awardee | Milaap

Remarkable journey of Padma Shri awardee

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." - Barack Obama
One such woman who has exemplified this statement is Sitavva Jodatti.  Once a devadasi and now CEO of MASS ( Mahila Abhivruddhi Matthu Samraksahna Samsthé ). Sitavva became devadasi at age of seven due to social and economic pressure on her family. She was one amongst the 9 girls in the family. Even though her father was against the idea of her dedication, eventually got persuaded by others due to monetary assurance. Sitavva managed to study up to 7th grade before she was sold to a man twice her age.  Her father's illness and starvation of family drowned her in the system. She bore two children with him. The man wanted to marry her but his family was against it. Due to the societal pressure, he could not marry her. Not long after that Sitavva was sent to another man in Jodatti village with more wealth. He was married to a woman but could not father any child. With Sitaava he had one daughter. He remarried to another woman in few years. Even he could not give the legitimate title to Sitavva, he continues to look after the children. And often visit her. Her own sufferings and dreadful experience of this immoral tradition gave her courage to do something for the women who become victims. She decided to break free through the tradition and do something that will not only change her life but also of all the women.

Ms. Sitavva found this organization in 1997 to empower the devadasis and provide them support. The organization has grown ever since and they have taken up various projects to help former devadasis, Dalit women, and their families. Today MASS has 17 permanent staff 55 part-time volunteers and over 3000 members. They have successfully run multiple programs for the devadasi empowerment as well as education of their children. Their part-time staff provides free tuition for children in various villages in Belgaum district. And also provide them guidance for competitive exams. Along with this they also run legal counseling sessions where they try to solve various family disputes outside of court by charging minimal fees. MASS has not only shaped a life of former devadasis but also the dalit community in Belgaum district.

Traditions are supposed to guide our society. But sometimes these traditions give the loopholes for exploitation of human rights. One such tradition is the devdasi system which has its roots in Karnataka especially in Belgaum district. Though this tradition has taken many forms in various states it was predominantly popular in Belgaum district of Karnataka. Once becoming the devadasi was considered something elite but eventually, it came down to the mere barbarism of women. During ancient period devadasis were known for their skills in various forms of arts such as dance, music, etc. They often served kings and were considered as privileged. However, after the British invasion devadasi system took a detour. And it became an unrighteous way to push women towards prostitution for monetary benefits. Most of the girls fell victim to the system due to financial difficulty at home. This tradition was unjust and someone had to take a step to stop it. Sitavva Jodatti took a courage to fight against it. MASS has not only eradicated this system but also gave a new direction to all the women by giving them opportunities to rehabilitate.  

In 2013 MASS approached Milaap to help them raise funds for the former devadasi and help them give a chance to improve their life. Since last 6 years, Milaap has successfully transformed lives of more than 4000 devadasis.  Kasturi Basappa Harijan is one such devadasi and single mother who borrowed money for buying goats. Kasturi works on a farm as a daily labor to cater their daily needs. But her daily wages were not enough to support the education of her son. Hence she decided to rear goats to earn extra income. Now she has sufficient income and is happy that her child’s education will not be interrupted. Shobha Santappa Muragod hails from a village called Handigud. She is a mother of 2 kids. Shobha and husband work as a daily wager. But income was not sufficient to support the education of both kids. Shobha decided to take a loan and bought buffalo. Now they manage to earn extra income by selling milk. Shobha’s daughter is now married and her son is finishing his education. There are many more such stories to tell. These women have managed to become independent overcoming struggles they faced as devadasis. This transformation was made possible due to dauntless steps of one woman. Sitavva’s earnest hard work and her irrefutable dedication to the betterment of devadasi and Dalit women is meritorious. Her strive for the reformation has paid off. MASS has managed the total removal of Devdasi system from Belgaum district. Ms. Sitavva Jodatti was nominated for the Padma Shri award for this year. And she deserves this honorable award more than anyone else. For her courage and for changing the lives of more than 4000 devadasi women. Her spirit and efforts are truly exemplary.