Servants of the Goddess
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Chandi preparing tufts of neem leaves for the festival. Devadasis prove their devotion to the goddess by walking up the steep mountain flank to the temple wearing only a robe of neem leaves. Before their dedication ceremonies, girls used to be required to run up the hill naked, but the custom has been outlawed. Police keep careful watch, but nude worshipers occasionally slip through the cracks.

The Devadasi Trust

“Some people look down on me because I don't know whom the fathers of my children are. They think they are better than me, but they're not. We too are human beings.”
-- Durga, sixteen year-old mother of two.


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In south India's poverty belt economic pressures and ancient traditions conspire to perpetuate the devadasi system, a tradition that leads thousands of girls each year into a life of sexual slavery. It is estimated that over a quarter million devadasis live in south India today.

Education and economic empowerment have proven to be the most effective tools in fighting poverty and oppression.

The Devadasi Trust Fund will channel money to NGOs working to empower and educate communities that feed into the devadasi system. The Devadasi Trust is a "Donor Advised Fund" at Charities Aid Foundation of America (CAF America). As CAF America is a registered US public charity, donations from US tax payers are tax deductible. CAF America will thoroughly vet recipient NGOs and hold them to account. Administrative fees are only 5%. Non-US Tax payers may either donate through the Devadasi Trust Fund, or give directly to the NGOs listed on the "HOW YOU CAN HELP PAGE."

For today's devadasis, who are for the most part illiterate, the "oldest profession in the world" is the only profession open to them. While schools do exist, children from the lowest strata of society are pulled from school as soon as they old enough to earn in the fields. Droughts and crop failure bring near starvation to tens of thousands of families on a regular basis. Even in good times, adult members of the family go hungry so the children have enough to eat. Dedicating at least one girl per generation as a devadasi is a form of insurance; she will provide for the family in difficult times. According to a local proverb, "a beautiful girl equals three acres of land." The time has to come to end this type of modern-day slavery, which leads to the sexual exploitation of children and trafficking of women and children to Mumbai's brothels.


All photos and site © Catherine Rubin Kermorgant