Friday, March 2, saw the culmination of the Attukal Pongala festival in Kerala – and the outbreak of row sparked by a senior police officer who blasted the cruel treatment of young boys in the name of religion.
The devout – mainly women – are invited to “experience the euphoria of religion, faith and beliefs” at the festival at the Attukal Bhagavathi temple in Kerala’s capital city of Thiruvananthapuram, but, according to this report, officer R Sreelekha wrote in a blog entry that:
Little girls are decked up and made to wear a crown, carry a with lit lamp and other things and just paraded around. Harmless! But for 1,000 odd boys, it’s torture time in Attukal now. Parents conspire with temple authorities to put their children through rigorous mental and physical abuse for five days where boys from the age of 5 to 12 are made to wear just a loin cloth, submerge in cold water thrice daily, eat measly morsels squatting on the floor and sleep on the bare temple ground.
Yes, recite mantras and obey blindly their leaders too. They are not allowed to see their parents during this time.
And on the final day, each of them will be decked up with yellow cloths, garlands, jewellery and makeup on face including lipstick and made to stand in a queue for their last unexpected torture. An iron hook, tiny though it is, will be pierced into their skin on their flanks. They scream. Blood comes out.
A thread will be symbolically knotted through the hooks to symbolise their bond with divinity. Then hooks are pulled out and ash roughly applied to the wounds! All this for temple deity! Parents may feel relieved that their boys will now grow up to be disciplined kids and do well in their studies. Will the kids too feel the same?
Sreelekha, above, alleged that the ritual is followed without informing the children about the piercing. Causing physical and mental pain to children are offences under sections 89, 319, 320, 349, 350, 351 of Indian Penal Code (IPC). The Juvenile Justice Act and the Child Welfare Commission Act penalises it.
Responding to the controversy, Attukal Temple authorities said that they are only abiding by a ritual which has been going on for eons and accused Sreelekha of making her statement:
Without proper knowledge about the rituals.
However, the authorities refrained from admitting if they actually pierced the bodies of children or not.
Hat tip: Gaurav Tyagi