Scores of devotees in Kerala are preparing for the famed Pongala festival at Attugal Devi temple in Thiruvananthapuram to be held on March 2. The annual festival conducted in the temple is said to be the largest temple festival involving women devotees.
However, this year's Pongala festival has come under a cloud, after a senior police official from the state called out a rigorous ritual which is part of the festival.
In her blog post published on Tuesday, DGP of Prisons R Sreelekha wrote about Kuthiyottam, a ritual in which an iron hook is pierced into young boys and termed it as "cruelty." She said that the ritual is a criminal activity and that the children are not even capable of realising that a crime is being committed on them.
Kuthiyottom is a ritual performed by young boys, "with the hope that the Goddess almighty would be pleased to bestow on them beauty inward and outward, health, wealth and happiness." The temple website describes the boys as "soldiers of the goddess" and states that the ritual involves "rigorous physical and mental discipline."
DGP Sreelekha wrote in her blog that young boys are "tortured" and are "put through rigorous mental and physical abuse for five days." She further added that "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?," Sreelekha wrote.
Pointing out that such cruelty towards children were punishable under sections 89, 319, 320, 349, 350, 351 of Indian Penal Code, Juvenile Justice Act and also penalised by Child Welfare Commission Act, DGP Sreelekha wrote that nobody showed willingness to complain against the abuse on young boys.
"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? And I found everyone with whom I talked knew about this torture on children, but did or are planning to do nothing!," she wrote.
From being a devotee to questioning the practice
In her blog post, DGP Sreelekha wrote about how she had been a devout devotee of Attugal Amma and how she began to question the ritual involving the boys.
"Last year, the son of my personal security officer was one of the so called soldiers of the Amma at Attukal. He was looking miserable each time I saw him in the crowd of boys. All the boys in wet loin cloths bore the same look of the sacrificial goats of Kamakhya. “Poor thing, why did you do this against his wish?” I asked the boy’s father. “Madam, I didn’t tell him about the piercing on the last day. If he knew that he would have run off from home.” He replied. It came as a shock to me. I never knew till then that these poor boys will actually be pierced with a hook. I just thought there will be some symbolic tying up of thread around their waists. All these years I had not seen any picture in the media of boys being pierced. I had read no reports in any newspapers about it either," she wrote.
Read Sreelekha's full blog here: http://sreelekhaips.blogspot.in/
(All photographs from the blog)