Geetha’s* situation was on the brink of turning from bad to worse – she was about to be dedicated as a Jogini and forced into a lifetime of ritual sex slavery. There was nothing that she could do to stop this. Not without help. And where would help come from?
Geetha lived in extreme poverty. She had no idea of the identity of her father; her mother had brought her up, so when she died from cancer, Geetha was on her own. She suffered from ill health, and like many Dalits in her position there was no possibility of getting any medical assistance. The swollen lymph nodes on her neck were not only undiagnosed, but were unsightly. Her brother often teased her that no-one would marry her because of this. He was probably right.
No marriage prospects
After her mother’s death, Geetha had gone to live with her brother and sister-in-law. Her brother was an alcoholic – not unusual among those who are struggling to make their way in society. They were genuinely worried that Geetha would end up without a husband. For them this was a major issue. Geetha would be shunned in the village, given limited work opportunities, and with no family to look after her as she gets older, she would be destitute and left with no option but to become a beggar. The only solution, they believed, was to dedicate Geetha as a Jogini. By marrying the goddess, Geetha would bring good fortune, and their lives would be blessed.
In an Indian wedding ceremony, the groom ties the thaali (a cotton necklace) around the bride’s neck as a symbol that they are now responsible for her. In a Jogini dedication ceremony there is no groom, since the girl is marrying the goddess. Geetha’s 50-year-old uncle, with three children of his own, agreed to tie the thaali. Since 20-year-old Geetha was well past puberty, it meant that she would become the ‘property of the village’ once this was done. She would be used by any man who approached her, or who forced themselves on her. As so many before her had discovered, it would be a life of misery, exploitation and abuse. She was looking into the abyss.
Back from the brink
Fortunately for Geetha, she lived in one of a hundred villages where Pratigya, one of Dalit Freedom Network’s Indian partners, works. Their representative in the village, herself a Jogini, heard about the forthcoming dedication and immediately informed Pratigya. The field team sprang into action, making contact with Geetha’s brother, and with the village elders. They sat down with them to explain the real consequences of dedicating a young woman as a Jogini. They explained why dedications are illegal, and that they would be forced to take legal action if the dedication was held. Pratigya submitted a report to the local government agencies to ensure that they were aware, and would also monitor the situation.
Now Pratigya are continuing to work with Geetha through their prevention and awareness programme, looking for opportunities to access services and schemes that will help to improve her wellbeing. It may only be a start, but it will have life-changing consequences.
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