Some parents in India practice the Devadasi tradition, selling their daughters into a life of prostitution, often around the age of 10.
We traveled to the Indian city of Sangli to meet a group of bolshy sex workers selling their bodies in the name of the Hindu Goddess Yellamma. Local sex worker Anitha invites us for lunch in her brothel; shows us her homemade “sex rooms,” and tells us what it’s like to be a religious prostitute in modern India.
Afterwards we cross the border into Karnataka into the heartlands of the ancient Devadasi tradition to uncover the mystery of the Goddess Yellamma, and find out how a religious icon became a justification for child prostitution. We meet two teenage Devadasis, Mala and Belavva, to talk sex, saris, and how they cope with the deadly threat of HIV.
A dancing transvestite Devadasi steals the limelight in the next phase of our journey, as we travel deeper into the murky world of temple prostitution. He invites us for chai, gives our host a manicure, and teaches us a few tricks of the trade. We explore the home of the most celebrated Devadasi brothel madam in the business to find out how she lures the next generation of girls into the sex trade.
For the grand finale we went to the annual full moon festival in Saundatti, the most prestigious event in the Devadasi calendar. The colour, dancing and celebrations of the festival disguise the darkness of its underlying purpose: child sex trafficking. Here traffickers, pimps and brothel madams come from all over India to recruit young girls and boys into the sex trade in the name of the Goddess Yellamma. On our way home, we are invited to a remote mud hut to meet two older Devadasi women a mother and daughter who reflect back on their lives and ask the question: what kind of religion turns parents into pimps and their children into prostitutes?