200-Year-Old Traditions, Says Tamil Nadu On Bare-Chested Girls At Temples

The devadasi system, that "dedicates" girls to a life of sex work in the name of religion, continues in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh

CHENNAI: The practice of keeping young girls in village temples to be worshipped as goddesses as part of rituals in south India amounts to abuse and slavery, the country’s top human rights body has said.

The rituals in which girls are dressed as brides and then “their dresses are removed, virtually leaving them naked” is a form of the banned devadasi system, the National Human Rights Commission said in a report published on Monday.

Practised in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and parts of western India, the devadasi system, which “dedicates” girls to a life of sex work in the name of religion, continues despite being outlawed in 1988.

“They are denied to live with their families and have education. They are forced to live in Mathamma temples, deemed to be … public property and face sexual exploitation,” the commission said in a statement.

The report was referring to a 15 day festival in parts of Tamil Nadu, which concluded on Tuesday, where local goddesses are worshipped and seven young girls are chosen by the community to stay in the temple.

Hundreds of girls between the ages of seven and 10 years are made to stay in the temple premises during the festivities.

The state government has denied accusations of abuse.

“Our child protection team has visited the temple in question and parents are there to take care of the girls,” said K Veera Raghava Rao, the administrative head of Madurai district in Tamil Nadu.

“These are 200 year old traditions that are practised in many village temples across the region. We have not found any case of abuse and our officials are monitoring the functions. We have asked them to cover the girls with a shawl.”

But campaigners said that in the name of tradition, hundreds of girls between the ages of seven and 10 years are made to stay in the temple premises during the festivities.

These girls, or Mathammas as they are referred to in parts of Tamil Nadu, are then forbidden to marry and must earn their living by dancing at the temples.

In some cases young girls being initiated into the practice have to be bare-chested with only garlands and jewels covering them, while in others they are made to carry pots of liquor as part of the celebrations, child rights campaigners added.

“As you travel through the region, the names keep changing, but the fact is that women are being forced into prostitution in the name of rituals,” said Priyamvada Mohan Singh, a criminology professor who carried out a survey in 2016 on the devadasi tradition for the Indian government.

“The tradition exists in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. We have documented many cases during our research.”

The National Human Rights Commission said the practices violated the children’s rights and asked both the Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh governments to respond in four weeks.

(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj, Editing by Ros Russell; Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

© Thomson Reuters 2017


  1. If it’s true,it’s the most disgusting ritual I can think of a d those who are supporting are equally disgusting people.

  2. Not sure why NDTV is still carrying this article, while so many had said that this is fake!! is NDTV behind cheap publicity?

    If you are too sure about your article, substantiate with evidence!!

    Otherwise remove this immediately.

  3. What nonsensical article this is. There is nothing ashamed of this image which NDTV morphed to make it look like obscene pictures. These are 10 to 11 year or below aged girl children, wearing jewelry covers their chest, so elegant child they are. It’s all about respecting the girls like own mother and sister and worship them like God and stay in the temple makes them the dignity of higher order for whole life. On the other hand, this fake news article shows as if these are women showing their breasts. There is nothing more shameful than the picture galleries of actresses on NDTV and other news media website. Some of these stupid NGOs and news media who do not understand the truth should be banished. They must fight for providing clothes to millions of poor girls all across the country roaming without clothes to cover their chest, instead of going after the girls who are from a decent family background celebrate their faith and custom.

  4. And the whole Saffron Brigade and Community is behind Islam… not loosing an opportunity to Point out at everything.

    Where’s FEKU and the whole Saffron Fanatics who keep crying and shredding crocodile tears on the pretext of woman safety and freedom…

  5. This all are 100% fake. I am in the same area i know the all the details.Still now we did n’t heard any single bad things from this festival. We are treating as our god as our sister. who is making problem with God?
    100% NGO advertisement. Anyone will go and check that you can understand how we are celebrating.

    DONT treat wrongly with unwanted fake news

  6. Is it temples (or) temple? These guys have a way of picking up something hidden in jungles and making a sensation out of it. We have not heard about these festivals much in TN, leave alone the devadasi system of past.

    Irrespective of the festival, there are many 8 to 10 year old girls across the country who are bare chested (or) just wear a loin cloth, as they cannot afford a two piece dress.

    Instead of asking for banning and complaining on these, the reformist will be better off by ensuring reach of education to these girls.

  7. No words to express my anguish and astonishment at this practice. What i sthe fault of these poor children? simply because they are from dalit families? and tradition is carried on to satisfy the rich and the lustful?

  8. 200 year old tradition means it should be Aryan tradition, and TN has no problems in letting this so called tradition disappear.

  9. Please update the headline for this news as it is misleading. It’s not Tamil Nadu who says this as a tradition. Some people who believes this non sense as tradition.

  10. Half truth is more dangerous than even a lie. And that is exactly what this article is all about. It is true that these girls (who hadn’t reached puberty) are made to stay in the temple with their chest covered with jewels. This is a practice widely followed in some rural pockets of Tamil Nadu. Whether this practice is despicable or not is left to one’s opinion. But to say that these girls are forced not to marry, to dance in temples and to indulge in prostitution is taking it too far and is absolute BS. I really doubt whether this “charitable arm” of a foreign missionary has some hidden agenda. You are entitled to your opinion, but get your facts right.

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