Sudha Murthy has inspired many young minds across the world to build a better and humane society. Sometimes, she inspired us through her act of kindness and sometimes through her inspiring words. She is an author and philanthropist, who has left no stone unturned in helping women realize their true potential.
From being the only girl in an engineering college, a course considered only for men at the time, to helping her husband in setting one of the finest IT companies, Sudha Murthy has always inspired us to shatter the norms.
But one instance that we hold very close to our heart is her courageous attempt to save lives of almost 3000 sex workers, known as devdasis. Though she was attacked with chappals and tomatoes, she still refused to give up on her attempt to save lives.
In her book, Three Thousand Stitches, she shared the inspiring and moving tale of rescuing 3000 devdasis in Karnataka. The “Devdasi”, also known as “Servant of the God”, is a tradition where young girls are “married” to an idol, deity, or temple. Sharing the details, Sudha Murthy mentioned in the book:
“The word devadasi means ‘servant of the Lord’. Traditionally, devadasis were musicians and dancers who practised their craft in temples to please the gods. They had a high status in society.
“However, as time went by, the temples were destroyed and the tradition of the devadasis fell into the wrong hands. Young girls were initially dedicated to the worship and service of a deity or a temple in good faith, but eventually, the word devadasi became synonymous with sex worker.
Some were born into the life, while others were ‘sacrificed’ to the temples by their parents due to various reasons, or simply because they caught a hair infection like the ringworm of the scalp, assumed to be indicative that the girl was destined to be a devadasi.”
When the Infosys Foundation was established, the plight of Devdasis was one issue that Sudha Murty wanted to deal with on priority. In her book, she described the entire struggle that she faced while rescue and rehabilitation of 3,000 devdasis in Karnataka.
This particular rescue mission forced not only to change her outer appearance – the way she dresses but also moved her personally. This emotional journey made her stronger as it moved her from naivety and a sense of failure to resilience and an innovative tackler of problems.
When Sudha Murty met Devdasis to offer them help, she initially had chappals and tomatoes thrown at her in response to her attempt.
During one of the events, Sudha Murthy briefly mentioned the details of the resistance that she faced while rescuing devadasis and their families:
“I was a girl with bobbed hair wearing jeans, who went to devadasis to educate them about AIDS. But, I was greeted with chappals (slippers). I went there again, but this time, they threw tomatoes on me,”
Sharing the exact incident, she mentioned in her book:
” Without warning, one of them stood up, took off her chappal and threw it at me. Can’t you understand simple Kannada? Just get lost”
Insulted and humiliated, I felt my tears threatening to spill over. I turned back and fled. Upon returning home, with the insult fresh on my mind, I told myself. I won’t go there again.’ However a few days later, it occured to me that women were probably upset about something lese and that may be I had simply chosen the wrong time and date to visit them.”
But when she went next, she was welcomed with tomatoes. She was shattered and heartbroken. On the verge of giving up, it was her father’s piece of advice that helped her to sail through one of the toughest life challenges.
It was her father, who suggested if she wears a sari, a mangalsutra, put on a bindi and tie her hair, she can establish a much better connection with a rural Indian woman like the devadasi.
So, when Sudha Murthy went again, wearing a saree and accompanied by her father, the things worked. The devadasis opened up to listen to her. Since then, the 65-year-old social worker has been working to eradicate the practice of devadasis. Some years back, around 3,000 such women took to various businesses after procuring a loan from a bank set up for devdasis.
It is quite inspiring how after facing harsh resistance from the sex workers, Sudha Murthy dedicated more than 20 years of her life to transforming their lives.
At IFORHER, we are in awe of Sudha Murthy and her courage & determination to support the community and make our society a kinder & better place. In such testing times, it makes it more important to celebrate REAL HEROES like Sudha Murthy, who inspire the young and old generation to come out of their comfort zone to help mankind.