The primacy of faith cannot be used to justify the violation of child rights as the collector has done when it was found that young girls are used in a temple ritual in Madurai in which they are not allowed to cover their chests. Parents do this voluntarily was the collector’s explanation, something which has no basis in the law.
Earlier in Tamil Nadu, incidentally home of a traditionally strong rationalist movement, children were pictured piercing their cheeks to appease the gods when the late chief minister J Jayalalithaa was ill. At that time, the explanation was that children did so of their accord out of love for Amma. The same faith argument was used when a young Jain girl died of starvation related causes in Hyderabad with the powerful Jain community opposing police action against the parents who were complicit in the child’s ruinous path of devotion. Faith and superstition are something we live with, but when these harm children, a line has to be drawn.
There are numerous rituals in which children are involved and which pose a grave danger to them. Among these are burying children up to their necks in Karnataka to ward off the evil eye, throwing babies down to be caught from towers in Maharashtra for good fortune and passing infants under elephants. The law cannot condone this sort of child abuse on the grounds that people’s beliefs cannot be tampered with. Children have no voice and have no choice but to accept the dangerous indignities heaped on them. In the Madurai case, the fact that no girl has been molested so far is hardly a matter of comfort. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act is clear that anything which violates the rights and safety of children is actionable. And the temple authorities and parents of these girls should be no exception.
Apart from this being wrong in law, there is the matter of the psychological damage to the child to be considered. Putting children through dangerous or demeaning rituals is bound to have a scarring effect on their psyche. The argument that the children are willing participants is specious, children are in no position to take such decisions on their own. The parent, school, religious authority or those in whose care the child is entrusted have to be answerable to the law if they carry out such rituals or encourage the child to undertake any life-threatening course in pursuit of faith.