“This is your destiny.”
The first time 14-year-old Yellama heard these words, she was in tears and traumatized as she had just been sexually assaulted the night before by a stranger. She felt violated, shocked and hurt.
Her mother’s words only worsened the situation.
Yellama, unfortunately like many other girls in India, was dedicated as a jogini (temple prostitute) at a very young age. A few days before her first assault, she had a normal childhood. She enjoyed going to school, spending time with her peers, and she was strong, healthy and intelligent.
All that changed when her sister returned home after becoming widow. The financial strain of supporting another child was too much for her family. The village priest recommended that Yellama be dedicated as a jogini to help bring in income.
Yellama was quickly ‘married to the goddess’ during a dedication ceremony and stopped going to school.
A life of misery
For the next several years, Yellama lived in despair and misery. She felt betrayed by her family and especially by her mother, who told her, “This is what you were born for — to be a jogini and serve the goddess.”
During the day Yellama worked as a day laborer and by night she was used by the men of her village.
She watched as her friends continued their schooling.
At one point, Yellama thought there was a way out of this life. She became pregnant and believed the father of the baby loved her and would take her as his wife. Sadly he, like all the men, abandoned Yellama and even avoided her in the street after she had his child. She was stung by shame as the villagers ridiculed her “half-breed” son.
Finding dignity and respect
Fortunately for Yellama, hope was on the horizon. She met some newcomers in her village who treated her with dignity and respect. She had never experienced this in her life before. These individuals truly cared for her and helped her turn her life around. She was finally able to leave her old life behind.
But what she took with her was the determination to not let other innocent girls suffer the same fate as her.
Yellama now wants to see an end to the jogini practice and wants the thousands of others who are trapped in this ritual sex slavery be freed.
We are so proud of how far Yellama has come in her life as she now works in our prevention program, raising awareness and stopping more girls being dedicated as joginis.
Yellama is a true inspiration!