Real Hero Grace rescues 'joginis' in Andhra Pradesh
Preeti SinghPreeti Singh, CNN-IBN
Updated Aug 08, 2011 at 09:28am IST
Hyderabad: A cruel and medieval tradition of poor Dalit girls,
forcefully married off to the village deity and then sexually abused
by the men in the village, still continues in Andhra Pradesh. But
there is one woman standing up to it. Grace Nirmala helps rescue these
girls and runs a home for joginis and their children.
Anjali was just 10 years of age when her parents forced her to become
a jogini, a yellamma, married off to the village deity. A jogini is
selected by the village sarpanch and she is usually a pre-pubescent
Dalit girl, who once married becomes a village property, to be abused
and sexually exploited by the men.
"The sarpanch came to tie my mangal sutra, I was very scared. I was
taken to the village centre and raised on a pole and people gathered
around to pray," Anjali said.
There are close to 50,000 joginis in India and many of tem are from
Andhra Pradesh. Once they get old they are of no use to the men and
are left to beg in the streets. However, Anjali managed to escape that
"Grace ma'am intervened and saved me. My parents were sent to jail and
she brought me here. She is my saviour," said Anjali.
Grace Nirmala has rescued 34 joginis so far. It was in 1993 when
Grace, a teacher in Hyderabad, first read about joginis.
"Many questions rose within me. I met many political people, priests,
government officials. They told it is their custom. They said that
they are just worshiping to god and they asked me why I am questioning
and why do I have a problem with it. I made a strong decision and
started working with the women," Grace said.
Grace quit her job and moved to Mehboobnagar district, notorious for
pushing Dalit girls into the jogini system. She began with a door to
door campaign. But she was accused of corrupting the minds of
villagers and bringing the wrath of the deity on the village. She was
asked to leave, but she refused to give up. She set up a home called
Aashray, for the girls and to the children born to joginis.
Grace, now has awareness and rescue campaigns spread across nine
districts of Andhra Pradesh with a core team of 30 members. These
committees are run by former joginis. They have also conducted the
first legal marriages of joginis in this area.
While the government has a 1988 Jogini Abolition Act in place, Grace
says it is toothless.
"The act is there, but it is not very strong. We are demanding
multiple developments. The government has to see everything, their
income etc. If we implement the schemes, the girls will come out of
the system. Even village administration, political parties, village
sarpanch should bear the responsibilities," she said.
Grace runs Aashray with partial international funding. But in times of
crisis, it's her belief in doing what is right that keeps her going.
Grace said, "It is my achievement. These children are now class
leaders in their class. They stand first in class sometimes. Teachers
also call me and say that my children are very bright. So, I feel very
happy. They are learning dance, alphabets, English and their
hand-writing is also good."
The children make sure that she is not disappointed.
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