A day after media reports on a 'bizarre ritual' involving minor girls which is conducted at Vellalur in Madurai district emerged, authorities tell TNM that they have intervened to monitor the situation.
On Sunday, the Covai Post released a video of young girls being paraded topless with garlands and jewellery adorning their necks. This procession is part of a yearly practice that involves the minors being 'offered' to the Yezhaikatha Amman temple for a fortnight. Seven girls, according to district authorities, are handpicked by the priest. They are brought to the temple in the above fashion and then made to work there under the supervision of the priest. This ritual is being conducted in this village for several decades.
"When we were informed of the practice, I immediately ordered the District Social Welfare Officer to visit the village," says Madurai collector K Veera Raghava Rao. "Parents of the minors said that the children were under their supervision and that they were seen as angels who are serving god," he adds.
More than 60 villages participate in this ritual every year and the girls chosen are only between the ages of six and ten. However, authorities are leaving nothing to chance. The Revenue District officer and social welfare officer have been instructed to monitor the festival every year now, for its entire duration. In addition to this, parents have been advised to cover the girls in a shawl before garlanding them.
"We cannot lay down rules here, as it would be akin to interfering in their religious matters," says the Collector. "However, we are closely watching the ritual. There have been no complaints of sexual abuse and we will ensure that there is no space for any in the future as well. If there is a violation, law will take its course," he adds.