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Abstract

The Madras Anti-Devadasi Act was passed in 1947 with the primary objective of liberating women from the oppressive norms of the Devadasi system. Sanctioned by religion, the institutionalization of the Devadasi system within the Hindu community legitimated women from certain caste groups to become ‘servants of god’. Through ritualistic norms, the Devadasis were wedded to God and the caste Hindu patriarchs were authorized to control the sexuality of the Devadasis. Given their vulnerable status in terms of caste, class, and gender, women from the castes lower in hierarchy were forced into the system. Despite the legislative intervention of the Anti-Devdasi Act seven decades ago, there are newspaper reports, which substantiate the continuation of the Devadasi systems in some villages in Tamil Nadu, reiterating the power of caste and sexist ideologies within Hindu society. In contemporary times, the Devadasis are mainly drawn from the Scheduled castes, otherwise referred to as Dalits. Literatures by historically marginalized communities play a pivotal role in their liberation. On the contrary an analysis of the literatures by (or on) the Devadasis reveal the internalization of societal ideologies which impedes their empowerment and emancipation. Drawing on Simone de Beauvoir’s conceptualizations of the gendered body and Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of “habitus”, which underlines the embodied nature of social positions, this paper discusses the physical and psychological conditioning of the Devadasis within the caste Hindu society. Through an analysis of two Tamil novels, Moovalur Ramamirtham’s Dasigalin Mosavalai allathu Mathi Petra Minor and Imayam’s Sedal, this paper argues that the Devadasis depicted in the novels are embedded in caste and gender norms that denigrate and oppress them. Hence, as a paradox, their resistance to the system results in perpetuating the oppressive and discriminative social system rather than enabling liberation.

Note on the Author

K.A. Geetha is an Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, BITS Pilani, K.K. Birla Goa Campus, India Her research interests are Dalit writing, Post-Colonial literatures, Women Studies and Cultural studies. She has published extensively in reputed National and International journals. Her most recent book is Contesting Categories: Remapping boundaries: Literary Interventions of Tamil Dalits (2014) New Castle: Cambridge Scholars.

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