The fundamental right against exploitation has been articulated in Article 23 of the Indian Constitution. Article 23 bans human trafficking, begar and forced labour. This post examines why the Constituent Assembly of India not specify Devadasi practice within right against exploitation.
On 3rd December 1948 the Constituent Assembly discussed Article 23 of the Indian Constitution. During the debates, K. T. Shah (Professor and Economist) proposed an amendment to include Devadasi within the ambit of Article 23: ‘Traffic in human beings or their dedication in the name of religion to be Devadasis or be subject to other forms of enslavement and degradation and begar'’. Shah argued that the practice of Devadasi wherein girls/women are dedicated as the slaves of temples is immoral and shouldn’t get protection in the name of religion.
G. Durgabhai, an Assembly Member from Madras province, argued against the inclusion of Devadasi in Article 23. She noted that while it is important to put an end to this social evil practice, Shah’s amendment was unnecessary. She argued that Madras had passed a law prohibiting this practice and observed: ‘It is no more in vogue there. Though some relics of that system still exist, these, I am sure, will disappear in course of time.’
Raj Bahadur supported Shah’s amendment and made a very interesting sociological argument. He noted that the effect of Constitutional guarantee against Devadasi practice has a better chance to tackle this evil as compared to having faith in future legislatures. However, he cautioned that a mere ‘paper protection’ in the Constitution will not be effective unless there is a societal will to end this practice.
T. T. Krishnamachari, from Madras province, made several arguments against inclusion of Devadasi in Article 23. He argued that it is not necessary to import all abuses which are in our society in our Constitution as there is no need to put a blot in fair name of India.
Krishnamachari did not want India to be viewed as a land of social evils. However he provided for a qualifier, only those social practices which are operated by vested interests for the purpose of economic gain must be constitutionally protected. He further insisted that the social practices must be tackled in two ways: legislative reforms and public mobilization.
In the end Devadasi was not included within Article 23. However, media reports suggest that despite decline in the numbers, Devadasi continues to be practiced in South India. While the Constitution framers seemed very optimistic about this practice dying out, post independent India proved otherwise.