A resident of Athani, Karnataka, 40-year-old Chanda Maigur’s story sounds almost like a fairy tale. Chanda was a devadasi who fell in love with Sunil and lived happily ever after.
Chanda’s father was a porter at the Athani bus stand. Her mother would gather wood from the forest and sell it for a living. After her elder sister’s marriage, Chanda’s parents decided to make Chanda a devadasi so they could use the money she earned to send their two sons to school.
Chanda was sold to a sex trader in Mumbai at the age of 11.
“Didn’t you tell them that you are just 11… to your madam or the customers?” we asked her.
“Why would the customers bother? They paid more money for children and young girls. And if I’d told my age to the madam she would have sent even more customers,” Chanda replies.
The brothel madam however was from Chanda’s village. So she was a little considerate towards Chanda.
“I thought of asking to go back to my village several times. But I saw how the girls who asked that were hit and kicked, so I quietly did what I was told,” says Chanda.
Soon, it was more than a year since she had been sold, and Chanda was used to this lifestyle by now. She had accepted the fact that she would have to work as a devadasi all her life.
But then, Sunil came into her life – just like a prince who was going to rescue the princess!
Initially, Sunil was just another customer for Chanda. But then, he started to ask her to stop being a devadasi and lead a respectable life. Chanda, however, couldn’t gather the courage to run away.
When Chanda was 14, there was a mass raid on the brothels in Mumbai. Chanda was among the ten girls who managed to run away, the rest were arrested. When these girls came back they told the others something that made them aware of the hazards of their profession. They told them about AIDS.
“The girls who were arrested went through blood tests and a few were found to be HIV positive. They were told the disease was incurable and is caused due to having sex with multiple partners. We were all scared,” says Chanda.
The girls now wanted to leave this profession but the police raids made it impossible for them to come out of hiding. For the next four years, Chanda and her friends kept working as devadasis while in hiding because they felt they did not have any other options.
Sunil stayed in touch with Chanda and kept insisting that she run away. And then, one day, Chanda finally picked up the courage to leave. One of the devadasi’s father came to take her back to Hyderabad. This devadasi, Mumtaz, asked the other girls to follow her and helped them come out of the hell they were in.
In the year 2000, when Chanda returned to her village, she was welcomed by her brothers who were now earning enough to help her.
With their support, Chanda took a loan of Rs. 35,000 from Milaap and started her own tailoring business. She purchased raw materials with the money and started making clothes for kids.
Meanwhile, Sunil kept searching for her in Mumbai and finally found her in Athani. They started staying together and had a child too. Sunil kept proposing marriage to Chanda but she says her past would not allow her to accept his proposal.
Sunil and Chanda never got married but are proud parents of two sons now. The elder one is in Class 9 and stays with Sunil in Gujarat and the younger one is in Class 6 and stays with his mother. They keep visiting each other whenever possible and wish to spend the rest of their lives this way.
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 Chanda 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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