Suffer little children to come unto me

  • Renuka Narayanan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Nov 16, 2014 13:49 IST

One day a man approached another man who was sitting with his companions and told him what he had done. He had a little daughter once who was greatly attached to him. But yielding to social pressure, he decided to take her away from home and kill her as others did when a girl was born to them.

I have heard two versions of how he killed her. One version is that he pushed her into a well and as she fell, she cried out, “Father! Father!” The other one goes that he dug a pit to bury her in, as his people usually did, and while he dug, the little one lovingly wiped the sweat from his brow. She cried aloud in confusion when he proceeded anyway to bury her and he went home to receive the approval of his neighbours and relatives.

A news story in modern India amplified around the world by the foreign press to our further shame? No, though it could be, couldn’t it?

This incident happened in seventh century Arabia. The man this deed was disclosed to was the Prophet of Islam. He is said to have wept so bitterly that his beard was soaked with tears. He consoled the father that God would forgive him for acting out of ignorance but warned him never to do so again.

Surah at-Takwir was revealed soon after that opens with scorching fury: “When the sun is folded up, and when the stars scatter, and when the mountains are set moving, and when the ten month pregnant she-camels are left untended, and when the beasts are gathered together, and when the oceans are set ablaze, and when the souls are reunited (with their bodies), and when the infant girl, buried alive, is asked for what crime she was slain, and when the records are unfolded, and when the veil of heaven is removed, and when hell is set blazing, and when paradise is brought near, then each person shall know what he has brought with him.”

This powerful verse sprang to mind of its own accord when I happened to see a very disturbing YouTube video this week about Prachi Trivedi, a Durga Vahini camp leader. The hardest heart will surely melt in pity for her. Her father says he branded her foot with a heated bar of iron when he caught her telling a lie in Class 7. She says she hates Gandhi; that she herself will not attack anyone but will kill to defend if attacked. She obeys her father implicitly as her mentor. The video ends with her expressing gratitude to her father for not killing her at birth like so many girls are killed in our society. “He let me live,” she says.

This is not about taking sides or putting down my own faith. It is to say that ‘Children’s Day’ is a meaningless farce and best discontinued if, after all these decades, an educated girl feels she must thank a violent father for letting her live— and such a life. If this is not jahiliyat, I don’t know what is.

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