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Former Independent journalist Sarah Harris has made a documentary about India's temple prostitutes - Devadasi are young girls who are dedicated to a Hindu deity at a young age and support their families as sex workers. The first instalment of the four-part exclusively online documentary 'Prostitutes of God' goes live today on VBS.
I first went to India after I left The Independent three years ago. I wanted to run away and do something really different, so I went to volunteer with a charity in southern India which rescues victims of sex trafficking.
On my very first day there I stumbled into a meeting of Devadasi prostitutes. I began to research it and in February was invited to northern Karnataka, which is the centre of the tradition in India. I interviewed a few of the women and wrote an article about it for Vice magazine. But visiting them stayed with me, and I wanted to find out more. When you approach a Devadasi girl for interview the response varies hugely.
A really wealthy brothel madam in Mumbai would be quite proud to talk about what she does. The only thing that has changed since the Devadasi practise was made illegal in is that the ceremonies have been driven underground.
Really it comes down to caste. Caste is a massively complicated issue still in India. My understanding of it is that originally when the Devadasi tradition first came about, the women dedicated were from high caste families, even royalty. They held a very special place in the Indian culture: were incredible dancers, poets, artisans. They had specific religious roles to play within the temple performing various sacred religious rites. They were almost like nuns and it had nothing to do with sex.