Loksabha election

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Women to boycott Maharashtra poll

Nearly 900,000 women will boycott the forthcoming elections in India's Maharashtra state, activists say.

The protesters include handicapped, widowed and underprivileged devadasi (literally slaves of god) women.

The women are angry because they say their demands for employment, pension and ration card have been ignored by all political parties.

They have set a deadline of 10 October for meeting their demands. Assembly elections are due on 13 October.

'So old'

"We have made several written requests, held demonstrations and meetings with all political parties to give ration cards to these women," said Vilasbhau Rupwate who represents destitute women, widows and devadasis.

"Some widows are so old they cannot work. Earlier they used to get 500 rupees ($10) every quarter. Now even that has been discontinued," he said.

Mr Rupwate said they had asked for a monthly pension of 2,000 rupees ($50) for them.

Latatai Sakat, who represents the devadasis, says the government refuses to process any of their documents like caste certificates, income or age proof.

"Most of them are not educated. They have no savings and end up working in an unorganised manner. They have been dependent on a certain tradition which is fast dying."

Devadasis are women who are given away to a local temple and married off to the deity and serve as sex workers for temple priests and local bigwigs.

It is an age-old religious practice which still continues in some parts of south India and Maharashtra.

Asha Yadav has been a devadasi for as long she remembers.

She lives alone in Igatpuri, about 100km from Mumbai, after her daughters were married off and her son refused to look after her.

"Now people do not respect the tradition of "jogwa" and we cannot work in other people's houses."

Jogwa is an age-old tradition where devadasis ask for alms on Tuesdays, Fridays, new moon days and full moon days and bless those who give them grains.

Another devadasi, Shalini Rithe, who lives in Mumbai, believes that the goddess takes or gives them the power to survive.

"In Mumbai where I live there are hardly any Marathi people. They do not even know this tradition. We are prepared to work as daily wage workers but there are no jobs for us."

Source : BBC

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