Encounters - Broken Lives

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Photograph of a JoginiTo accompany our powerful new exhibition Broken Lives: slavery in modern India, we have a series of talks and events exploring the themes and issues in the display. The next talk on Saturday 11 July will highlight how some Dalit women and girls are forced into ritual sex slavery as Joginis and what is being done to combat this exploitation. Later on in the year on 21 November, author David Skivington will be talking about why modern slavery in India is central to his writing. Here, David tells us more about what inspired him to use his second novel to raise awareness of the Jogini system: “Take a second and think about the last time you discovered something which really shocked you. It might have been something you saw or heard, or maybe a story you read in the paper. What did you do? When I was 18 I volunteered in Kolkata for a year. Walking down a bustling street in the midday heat a man approached me and engaged in conversation. Naïvely assuming he just wanted to chat I obliged in pleasantries, before he leaned in and asked if I was looking for young girls for sex. Reaching into his pocket he began to withdraw photos, before I pushed past him without looking back.
“That was my first encounter with modern day slavery and the moment has haunted me ever since."
Sickened by the man's proposal, and annoyed by my own inaction against him, I went onto research human trafficking over the next few years. Every statistic I saw or story I heard made me more determined to let other people know the magnitude of the issue. This led me to write a crime thriller novel on human trafficking in India, with the aim of engaging people through a fast paced story, while challenging them to act against trafficking by supporting charities involved in that field. I later returned to India with my wife, working in an orphanage school with Dalit children in danger of being trafficked. However, it was not until I came across the work of the Dalit Freedom Network that I became aware of another deeply disturbing form of modern day slavery; temple prostitution. While visiting a temple of the goddess Yellamma, I was told about the practice of the Devadasi or Jogini. Young girls would vow never to take a husband, but instead be dedicated to the temple. When these girls reached puberty they would then be used the men of the village, whenever they wanted them. In certain cases the men's wives would actively encourage them to visit the girls because they believe that it would bring blessings to their family. Deeply disturbed by our visit to the temple and conversations with ladies working with the Joginis, I again felt driven to take action. After lots more research to understand an extremely complex and diverse practice, I am currently working on my second novel to raise awareness of this system. I hope that these moments which shocked me might inspire others into action against these horrendous forms of modern day slavery.” Find out more about the Broken Lives' events programme here.