This is a part of our series #SetDevadasisFree where we feature devadasis who had the courage to break free from the shackles of the sex trade and aim for a better life for their children. We aim to showcase their plight and raise funds to help setup sustainable businesses for them.
“Bahut dukhta tha madam.. din me kam se kam 10-12 aadmi aate the. Par kya karti.. Maa bimar thi aur karza chukana tha (It used to hurt a lot, madam. About 10-12 men used to visit me daily. But what could I do? My mother was sick and I had to repay a debt),” says Mahananda Metri from Kappalguddi village in Belgaum district, Karnataka.
She is speaking about those terrible days when she was just 13. Her mother Chandrawa was a devadasi. She took a loan from her brothers when she was sick and had to be admitted to the hospital. To repay the loan, she sold her daughter Mahananda to a sex trader in Sangli.
Mahananda used to bleed for months. And when the bleeding finally stopped she was pregnant. She aborted her first baby when she was 14 and the second when she was 16.
“No one asked me to abort the babies. It was my decision, madam. Otherwise how was I supposed to earn to repay my mother’s loan?” she asks.
Chandrawa had a problem with her legs and could not walk when she was a child. Her parents then promised Yelamma (the goddess of devadasis) that they would make their daughter a devadasi if she could walk again. Once she was fine, Chandrawa was sorry she had recovered because her parents kept their promise.
Mahananda was Chandrawa’s first child. Chandrawa’s parents took their granddaughter to a swami (holy man) who told them that if she ever got married her husband would die. So they told Chandrawa to make Mahananda a devadasi too. Moreover, Chandrawa had to repay the Rs. 10,000 she had borrowed from her brothers.
“I had to pay 10% interest on the loan of Rs.10,000. I also had to give 50% of my income to my master. It took me six years to repay the loan,” Mahananda says.
Just eight months after her second abortion, Mahananda was pregnant again. By now, the loan had been repaid so she wanted to keep this child.
“I kept working for seven months and was then allowed to come back to my village for the delivery on the condition that once the baby was six months old, I would go back to work again. But I didn’t go back,” she says.
Mahananda delivered a baby girl. She was happy that she did not have to be a part of the flesh trade again. But she was weak now. She had never been to a school, so all she could do was work as a farm labourer. But her health did not allow her to do so. She had to continue her old work against her wishes again, just so she could feed herself and her baby. After three years, she gave birth to her second child. At this point she made the decision to give up her work as a devadasi and begin afresh.
Mahananda started working as a farm labourer. She also took training in tailoring that was arranged by the government. She worked in the farms in the mornings and left for the training in the afternoon with her 6-year-old and 3-year-old in tow.
It took three years to learn tailoring properly and another two years to buy a sewing machine. But once she did, she was unstoppable.
Mahananda’s day now starts at 5:30 am. She leaves for the farms at 9 am and comes back at 6 pm. She then sews clothes to earn extra money.
Her elder daughter is pursuing a BAMS degree and the younger daughter is in Class 10. A year-and-a-half ago she took a loan of Rs. 20,000 from Milaap, with which she paid the fees for her daughters and bought two new sewing machines. She has now started her own tailoring classes.
“My elder daughter is in 13th class… I think it is called B…A…M..S. The younger one is also good at studies. They felt humiliated initially when people asked them their father’s name in the school. But now they understand and are proud of my hard work. I still remember those horrifying days when I was a devadasi and I cry alone from the sheer pain of those memories. But I never cry in front of my daughters. I am going to work till I die to help them stand on their own feet,” concludes a proud and strong Mahananda.
The Better India, in association with Milaap, has started a fund-raiser to help 135 Devadasi women move from oppression to opportunity.
Your contribution will be used to provide financial support to former Devadasi women like Mahananda to start small businesses like tailoring, rearing livestock, and running small shops. These businesses help them pay their children’s school fees, generate a livelihood for their families, and save for their old age. Our target is to raise INR 18,79,100.
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