Wedding photos of minor daughters of TN Chidambaram temple priests surface

The development comes a day after NCPCR member Dr RG Anand claimed that the priests’ daughters were not subjected to child marriage and that the children were forced to say they were.
Pictures of the child marriages connected to the Chidambaram Natarajar Temple case
Pictures of the child marriages connected to the Chidambaram Natarajar Temple case
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Photographs from the marriage ceremonies of the minor daughters of priests at the Chidambaram Natarajar temple in Tamil Nadu have surfaced on the internet. The development comes a day after Dr RG Anand, member of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), claimed in a press conference that the Dhikshitars’ (priests) underage daughters were not subjected to child marriage and that the children were forced to say they were. Dr Anand’s claims were in line with the allegations made by Governor RN Ravi. 

At least three child brides can be spotted in the photographs that are now circulating the internet. A state government official confirmed to TNM that the photos were indeed captured during the wedding ceremony of the priests’ daughters. Family members of the children are also identifiable in the images. As per media reports, the images were procured from the cell phones of the Dhikshitars themselves.

“The Department of Social Welfare has submitted evidence to the police including photos from the weddings, receipts from the halls where the child marriages took place, wedding invitations, and the thamboolam bags (yellow bags carrying the names of the bride and groom presented to those attending the weddings). Hence, no one can claim that child marriages never took place,” said a source from the state government. The source confirmed that the grooms were also minors in some of these cases.

Vasuki Umanath, national vice president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), said it was deplorable that this child marriage took place and the Governor is denying it. “It appears as though [the Governor] is supporting child marriages, which is prohibited by law. He is crossing the constitutional line. The Sangh ideology is being increasingly imposed and even the NCPCR member [Anand] seems to have been pressured to comply,” she said.

Devaneyan, a child rights activist from Tamil Nadu, told TNM that he is saddened to see the state’s superior authorities functioning against the best interests of the children. “The question that has arised is whether the NCPCR is functioning in the best interests of the children or the Governor. It is clear that the NCPCR is favouring the latter because they have even denied the evidence that had already been processed by authorities,” he said.

Sources from the Police Department said they suspect 52 child marriages to have taken place in Chidambaram since 2021. At present, they are gathering strong evidence to book six more child marriage cases, they said.

The All Women’s Police Station in Chidambaram have already booked four cases under Section 366(a) (procuration of minor girl) of the Indian Penal Code and the 9th and 10th sections of the Prevention of Child Marriage Act, which are to be heard in court soon. Eight men and three women were arrested in this regard between September and October 2022. “We are discussing if the cases must be heard in Chidambaram’s special court for the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO),” a source said. 

In an interview with the Times of India published on May 4, Governor RN Ravi had alleged that the Social Welfare Department officials lodged “false complaints” of child marriage against two priests of the Natarajar temple out of “vengeance”, he had claimed. After media reports highlighted the Governor’s allegations, the NCPCR took suo motu cognisance to investigate the incident and declared that the governor’s allegations were “100% true.”

On May 26, Dr Anand also strengthened the governor’s claim alleging that the two-finger virginity tests were carried out on the victims of child marriage cases and added that the NCPCR holds the evidence to prove it. However, the state officials denied the claim. Incidentally, media reports from May 25 had quoted Dr Anand as saying that there was no evidence the two-finger test was performed on the minors.

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