India (MNN) — The devadasi lifestyle is outlawed in India, but the practice remains in pockets of the country. Devadasis are temple prostitutes dedicated to a particular god or goddess. They perform sexual favors, and much of the money they earn goes to the temple as a religious offering.
Haida was only seven-years-old when she became a devadasi for the goddess Yellamma. Her family worshipped Yellamma, and Haida’s mother pressured her into religious servitude.
At first, Haida was mesmerized by the devadasi dedication rituals and processions for her. But things quickly grew dark as she realized what was expected of her. When Haida tried to run, her mother stopped her and forced her to stay or risk stoking the goddess’s wrath.
Fear kept Haida enslaved in temple prostitution and stole her childhood. She eventually had two daughters by different men. By the time she was a young adult, Haida was working hard labor outside the temple to earn extra income and support her children.
Haida never had an education and couldn’t read or write, so alternative employment was out of the question. She was terrified that her daughters would be pressured to become devadasis as well. In despair, Haida made plans to take her own life.
But God intervened. Haida’s cousin, Raheema, was a Christian and came to visit Haida on the day she planned to end her life. Raheema told Haida the story of Jesus and His love for her. It was the first time Haida felt a glimmer of hope.
Mission India’s Adult Literacy Classes are vital for women like Haida who have only known degradation and disempowerment.
Erik* with Mission India says, “One of the greatest things about Adult Literacy Classes is that they, for the first time, get to understand their value — their value in their family, their value in their community, their value to themselves, and ultimately and most importantly, the value that God has put upon them.”
Women and men leave these classes after a year with a fifth-grade level in reading, writing, and math.
“These classes also provide microeconomics. They teach women how to start their own business and earn an income. Really, they provide lifelong skills that they can transfer to their family. So the mom always comes back to the family and helps bring that family out of poverty and shows their daughters the power that they can have and how valuable they are.”
Adult Literacy Classes don’t just change students’ lives educationally and economically; there’s also a spiritual aspect.
“Throughout the entire year, they actually get to learn about Scripture and engage with Scripture and they get to hear the Gospel. The teachers that we have, not only are they skilled to help the students educationally and financially, but they’re also skilled in sharing the Gospel and communicating the saving truths of Jesus Christ,” Erik says.
“Oftentimes, we get to see women receive Jesus and their lives are forever changed eternally.”
The cost to send one woman to an Adult Literacy Class for a year is just $40.
“I’m still blown away by that — $40 to give someone the tools to better themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually I think is so fantastic.”
Meanwhile, please pray for devadasis like Haida to find hope and freedom in Jesus. Ask the Lord to soften their hearts and sense His love for them.
Erik asks, “Also just pray for their confidence — confidence in taking the next step educationally, confidence in trying to earn an income, confidence in trying to have difficult conversations with a spouse, and really become the women that God has created them to be.”
Header photo of Haida courtesy of Mission India.
*Names changed for security purposes.