Published: 07th February 2022
Meet the 35-year-old from K'taka who escaped the Devadasi system and is now doing her PhD on social inclusion of Devadasi youth
Manjula Telagade has always been passionate about education and this has been her driving factor through all these years. Here's her motivational story
"When I was hardly 10 years old, there was a shop next to our house and people would stand there in large numbers. In our house, there were a few Devadasis, including my mother and aunt, and men used to visit them often. There was a noisy atmosphere in and around our house, but I just focussed on studying. When I was studying in Class X and they decided to make me a Devadasi, youth from the upper caste started roaming around our house. But I revolted and came out of it. That was just the beginning," says Manjula Telagade (35) who is doing her PhD on social inclusion of Devadasi youth. She is among the few people from the community to complete higher education.
Hailing from a remote village in Mudhol taluk of Bagalkote district in North Karnataka, Manjula grew up amid the Devadasi system. There were around 60 houses in her village and almost every house had one or two Devadasis, like her own house. She was admitted to school and when she was in Class IV, she attended tuitions conducted by local youth. "Not tuitions to be precise, they would talk about Ambedkar, Swami Vivekananda, Indian Constitution and fundamental rights that ignited my little mind. I learnt that if we study, we can come out of this system. I had seen atrocities, society shaming and even untouchability,'' she said.
In Class X, Manjula was forced to become a Devadasi. "But I resisted. When they did not oblige, I threatened to commit suicide, that's when they got scared. I still remember, my grandmother said we will allow you to study, you should make it and take care of your mother,'' she said. Manjula started working part-time at a private hospital. "I did all the work, I was a receptionist and helped doctors and nurses. They paid me Rs 500 per month. I used to spend it on my education and even help mother,'' she recalled. She finished her BA in Mudhol and started taking tuitions for children and an NGO helped her pursue her Master's in Social Work at Udupi. She is now doing her PhD.
In high school, Manjula could not take part in sports or cultural events. "For one sports event, they asked me to fill up a form where I had to write my father's name, which I don't know. When in Bengaluru for my visa to Germany, officials asked me about my father and taunted that children of Devadasis have many fathers. I have seen many of my villagers quit jobs or studies, for this reason, there should be some way to deal with forms," she said.
In the name of empowering Devadasis, former Devadasis and their children, the state government has many schemes, but there is no awareness. "Monthly pension comes to them once in three or six months, what should they do?" Manjula questioned. "When they visit government offices for these benefits, they are treated badly. Volunteers working with them were given Rs 2,500 per month, but the government stopped it, saying there is no Devadasi system now. In reality, it still exists. The girls were sent to brothels in Mumbai and Pune. They return with either a child in their hands or some disease, but no one talks about it,'' she said.
Manjula married her colleague who worked in the NGO and he is encouraging her to pursue her dream to study. "If the government educates Devadasis' children for the next ten years, the system can end," she added.