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Kerala woman DGP wants end to rigorous custom for boys at Attukal Devi temple during Pongala

Often called women’s Sabarimala, Attukal Devi temple in Thiruvananthapuram holds ‘kuthiyottam’ ritual during annual Pongala in which young boys between the age of five and 12 are made to wear loincloth, submerge in cold water, eat measly morsels on the floor.

india Updated: Feb 27, 2018 21:44 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
Kerala,Kerala woman DGP,Sreelekha
Attukal Devi temple in Thiruvananthapuram. Kerala DGP Sreelekha compared the boys with the goats to be sacrificed at Guwahati’s Kamaakhya temple.

Kerala director general of police R Sreelekha on Tuesday called for an end to the age-old practice of boys between five and 12 performing rigorous rituals called ‘kuthiyottam’ during the annual Pongala festivities at the Attukal Devi temple in the state capital.

Often called women’s Sabarimala, Pongala has found a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as “the largest gathering of women” based on the 2.5 million turnout in 2009. Kuthiyottam is a ritual performed by young boys after observing a seven-day vritham, or penance.

The DGP in charge of prisons wrote in her blog that the ritual involving young children should be stopped as the punishing practice includes boys being “made to wear just a loincloth, submerge in cold water thrice daily, eat measly morsels squatting on the floor and sleep on the bare temple ground”.

They are not allowed to meet their parents during the time and on the final day each of them would be wearing yellow cloths, garlands, jewellery and makeup, including lipstick, and made to stand in a queue for their “last unexpected torture”, she said.

“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 the hooks are pulled out and ash roughly applied on the wounds! All this for the temple deity!” the DGP wrote.

Sreelekha compared the boys with the goats to be sacrificed at Guwahati’s Kamaakhya temple. “All the boys in wet loincloths bore the same look of the sacrificial goats of Kamakhya,” she said.

Calling it a torture, Sreelekha wrote: “Causing physical and mental pain to children are offences under sections 89, 319, 320, 349, 350, 351 of the Indian Penal Code.” And she reminded that the juvenile justice law and the child welfare commission act penalise such action.

The comments from the state’s first woman IPS officer came ahead of this year’s Pongala festivities, which begin in the temple on March 2.

The officer said she is an ardent devotee of the temple’s presiding goddess and has been offering Pongala — a mix of rice, jaggery and ghee — since she was a 10, but she can’t justify such “cruel customs”.

Sreelekha said the custom thrives because most parents believe their children will do well in life if they perform such punishing rituals, and they as well as temple officials often ignore the hardships the boys endure.

“All are sacred to speak about it. But we should raise our voice to stop such customs,” she wrote and posted pictures of children getting ready for ‘kuthiyottam’.

“Can we call it (the temple) Boy’s Prison Cell?” she asked, and urged people to “stop this yearly crime in the name of faith.”

This year, more than 980 boys are taking part in the ritual, PTI said quoting temple sources.

The temple authorities rejected the charges and said no one is being forced by the shrine to participate in the ritual.

“We are not forcing anybody and it is only a ritual. It is unbecoming of a DGP-rank officer to come out with a misleading statement, especially at a time the annual festival is on,” V Chandrasekhara Pillai, chairman of the Attukal Bhagawathy Temple Trust, told PTI.

He said there is a Kerala high court directive that none should interfere in the temple’s rituals and customs.

First Published: Feb 27, 2018 21:29 IST