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Top cop in India raises voice against ‘painful piercing’ temple ritual on young boys


Story by Sumesh RajanMumbai: March 3, 2018                    

Terming Kuthiyottam (a ritual in which a tiny iron hook is pierced into the skin on the sides of young boys) – which is conducted during the annual Pongala festival at the Attukal Bhagavathi Temple at Thiruvananthapuram, the capital city of the south Indian state of Kerala – as cruelty on children, the state’s Director General of Police (Prisons and Correctional Services) R Sreelekha has called for an end to the age-old practice.

What started as a blog by the top cop has now become a loud voice against such inhumane practice under the garb of religious rituals.

Following Sreelekha’s blog on the matter, the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights registered a suo-motu case on February 28.

In her bog titled ‘Time to Stop this Yearly Crime in the Name of Faith!’, Sreelekha says, “Attukal temple has again become the cynosure of all eyes now. The temple festival has started last week and devoted women all around the world has gone into a fasting mode. This temple is referred to sometimes as the ‘Lady’s Sabarimala’ erroneously. While women of certain age groups are banned near Sabarimala, men of every age group throng around Attukal Temple during “Pongala.” So, hardly akin to Sabarimala! But what about children? Can we call it Boy’s Prison Cell? 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 1000 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 make up 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 on 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? And how will our dear Attukal Amma be feeling?

She further states, “Causing physical and mental pain to children are offences under sections 89, 319, 320, 349, 350, 351 of the Indian Penal Code. The Juvenile Justice Act and the Child Welfare Commission Act penalises it. Who will complain? Parents will not, those who see it will not since they have no locus standi. Will a child complain? How will he even know that a crime has been committed on him?”

Sreelekha compared the boys with the goats to be sacrificed at the Kamaakhya Temple at Guwahati in the state of Assam. “All the boys in wet loincloths bore the same look of the sacrificial goats of Kamakhya,” she said.

The officer said she is an ardent devotee of the temple’s presiding goddess and has been offering Pongala — a mix of rice, jaggery and ghee — since she was a 10, but she can’t justify such “cruel customs”.

Sreelekha said the custom thrives because most parents believe their children will do well in life if they perform such punishing rituals, and they as well as temple officials often ignore the hardships the boys endure.





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