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Young Girls in India August 07, 2007 5:27 AM

Despite having been outlawed since 1988, some 16,000 women and girls in Andhra Pradesh continue to be affected by the practice of Jogini. As daughters of Jogini, Bharati and Jyothi are vulnerable to being made Jogini as well As a result, they are dedicated to a goddess and become the sexual property of her devotees. Girls are dedicated for a number of reasons. Often it is done when a girl is ill or has a physical symptom or characteristic considered indicative of a goddess's displeasure. She is dedicated either to give thanks for her survival or in order to gain a goddess's favour and protection. Or she is dedicated because of the lack of male offspring. The Jogin's formal dedication, or 'wedding', usually takes place after puberty. Often this results in her being given as a 'second wife' to a male relative on a semi-permanent basis. In other cases she becomes common sexual property and is obliged to have sex with any man in the community who wants her. Because the girl has no choice in becoming a Jogin and may not refuse a man's advances, she is a slave. Jogini are the most marginalised and dispossessed group in their communities; I was particularly struck by how impoverished and ill they were. They are discriminated against because they are poor and come from the lowest castes. As a result, they have to live in a segregated part of the village, cut off from the rest of the community. They suffer poor health and face a high risk of catching sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS. In contrast to the number of men they sleep with, they have few children as miscarriages and infant mortality are high. The children who do survive face discrimination, the greatest being that they are unable to register for school as they cannot provide a father's name; no man will admit to fathering a Jogini's child. There is also a high risk that Joginis' daughters will be made Joginis as well. As part of our efforts to understand the current nature of this ancient practice and to help empower Joginis, we held a three-day workshop with our local partner Sravanti. The women told of how they were discriminated against, as could be seen from their work as daily agricultural labourers. Because of their status, they only received 20 rupees (47 US cents) a day, half of what other labourers earned. The amount is not even enough to provide two meals a day, let alone live on. The workshop helped the women feel empowered to raise awareness of Jogini By the end of the workshop, the women were actively engaging in discussions on how they could take steps to ensure an end to the practice and how to protect their daughters from being made Jogini. They made plans to perform the plays and songs which they had learned in order to educate people about the harsh realities of ritual slavery and pledged to stop initiation ceremonies from taking place. With help from Sravanti, they drew up a list of local authorities, including village councillors and policemen, whom they would meet to talk about what being a Jogini really involved. For the closing ceremony the women performed a play about their lives and their daughters performed some traditional songs and dances. It was a moving experience because the women had opened up and shared their lives with us, demonstrating great dignity and strength. Despite the hardship they face, the women felt empowered and were looking to a future where, through their involvement and activism, the practice of ritual sexual slavery would be eradicated. For more information from the Anti-slavery Campaign see http://www.antislavery.org/archive/reporter/reporter%20spring%202007.htm Love, Yvonne x  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
 
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