Grace Nirmala – A True Hero – who fought to abolish this heinous practice of JoginiSystem !
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.
With so much negativity around us, the good often escapes the eye and in an atmosphere of negativity and despair, the positive aspects of India are often missed.
This post is to recognize the sacrifices of A True Hero in my views – Ms Grace Nirmala, who stood against this evil tradition of forcing girls led into life of ‘sacred’ sex slavery.
Grace has been rescuing teenage girls destined to become joginis in the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, and taking them under the wings of ‘Aashray’, a voluntary organization founded by her in 1993.
It is a tradition as old as India itself – lowly, village girls from “untouchable” families being dedicated to serve as temple prostitutes for Hindu high priests and Brahmin elders.
Joginis, Basvis, or Mathamma, are different names given to the women ‘dedicated’ to Gods and Goddesses in different parts of Andhra Pradesh.
A teacher in Hyderabad, Grace Nirmala was moved by stories of joginis, she left her job & fought to abolish this heinous practice young village girls in parts of Andhra Pradesh who were married off to the village deity and then used and abused by village men.
In the darkened lives of Anjali, Thirupathamma, and many other girls, Grace Nirmala came as a ray of light.
At puberty they are “married” to the temple amid ritual and celebration before spending their “wedding night” with the priest or upper-caste elder – a prelude to a life of sexual slavery.
As the lowest-born, the joginis are unable to protect themselves.
These women have many sexual partners.
They cannot refuse the men and they cannot ask them to use condoms – and the men certainly aren’t going to volunteer to use them,
Though the centuries-old practice has been banned by specific laws of the nation, not much has been done to put an end to it completely.
Once they turn old, they are dumped and left to beg.
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 fate.
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.
When Mrs Nirmala arrives in the village of Dhanwada, 100 miles south of Hyderabad, 10 joginis gather in the gaudily-painted temple to the goddess Yallamma to welcome her.
Among them is 19-year-old Chinaguddi, a bashful but beautiful young woman dressed in a flowing, blue sari. She was only 12 years old when she was dedicated to Yallamma.
Her story, according to Mrs Nirmala, is typical. Chinaguddi never went to school, has a sick mother who cannot work and a father who died when she was young and so is ripe for exploitation.
“The people in the village respect me,” she says falteringly. “They ask me to come and perform some puja for them because I am jogini and have been dedicated to Yallamma.”
Chinaguddi does not remember fear or choice. Her dedication was an event that occurred beyond her control. “My mother has asthma and is too weak for working, so this is my life,” she says simply.
Joginis live with their families and continue to serve the temple until their looks fade. Like the brothel madams of European tradition, elder joginis support and counsel the next generation.
Everyone in the village knows Chinaguddi is a jogini and, according to practice, upper-caste men will approach her mother with gifts of money and food, for permission to have a “friendship” with her.
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.
Asked if she feels angry at her situation, Chinaguddi expresses regret but accepts that, as a dalit with multiple sexual partners and a family who rely on her, she has little choice.
Sometimes I ask why mother did this to me. Why I cannot have a normal marriage and go and live in a husband’s village,” she says.
“But what can I do? Who will marry me now? I am a jogini.”
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.
Till date, she has conducted fifteen marriages of former joginis. She has rescued several children from the jogini custom and is giving them good education.
Aashray is also working on a series of awareness and orientation programmes on HIV/AIDS among its members, and publishes a quarterly magazine ‘Dalitha’ that carries success stories of dalit women.
I Salute Madam Grace Nirmala who stood against this Heinous system
It is sad that we still get to see such heinous traditions in rural India
To watch the real story picturization of Grace Nirmala then follow the link below
Hemant Khurana Salutes You Grace ma’am !!
You are a True Hero !!!
God Bless You Grace ma’am!!