National Girl Child Day: Of Kumari Puja & Hypocrisy
One of the most ceremonial functions in the ongoing Durga Puja is a popular ritual that goes by the name of Kumari Puja; here the mighty Mother Goddess is worshipped in her purest, virginal avatar, legendarily lauded as her most powerful elucidation of ‘Mahashakti’.
A pre-pubescent girl, who usually belongs to an upper caste Brahmin family, is anointed, with a bunch of priests reciting sacred shlokas to invoke the spirit of the Goddess in her, as she sits with her legs crossed, her forehead decorated with tiny sandalwood designs, facing an array of oil-lamps and an ocean of devotees, adorned almost as a replica of the idol, the cherubic little girl laden with jewellery, her tiny frame wrapped in heavy silks.
Folklore claims that the famed Indian ascetic Ramkrishna Paramhans worshiped his wife Sarada Ma, as Kumari – a practice that is still in vogue at the Ramakrishna Mission, where the Kumari Puja attracts swarming crowds.
And yet, this year, I can’t help but wonder if we subversively, as a culture and people, are nothing but a bunch of well-preserved ironies and hypocritical fallacies. And what Goddess are we claiming to pray to?
Which nation that chest thumps about Jai Mata Di, Jagrata, and Ma Durga—fasts austerely and travels on devout pilgrimages to places as far flung as Vaishnodevi, spends more than Rs 80 lakhs on constructing the world’s tallest Durga idol—can stay sane and celebrate when news headlines scream the gruesome rape of young girls. On October 9, 2015, a four-year-old girl (dubbed Choti Nirbhaya by the media) was raped in New Delhi, painfully resurrecting the memories of Nirbhaya’s premature end.
What kind of moral perversion does this country actually house? Who have we become? What do all our overt religious fanaticism and beef ban boil down to when the girl child is endangered?
A statement released by Louis-Georges Arsenault, UNICEF Representative to India grimly points out:
One in three rape victims is a child. More than 7,200 children including infants are raped every year; experts believe that many more cases go unreported. Given the stigma attached to rapes, especially when it comes to children, this is most likely only the tip of the iceberg.
The Indian government in 2007 had conducted a survey of 125000 children in 13 states. Of those children interviewed, more than half (53%) said that they were subjected to one or more forms of sexual abuse. Over 20% of these claimed they were subjected to severe forms of abuse. Of those who said they were sexually abused, 57% were boys.
In 2013, the Human Rights Watch Report “Breaking the Silence” also portrayed a bleary picture of child protection in India, especially pertaining to preventing sexual abuse of minors within homes, schools and institutions.
What happens to this little child? How can we ensure she heals? What about her parents? Will our conservative and misogynistic society that eulogises virginity as the highest moral virtue of our sex ever be able to accept her scars? Which school will she study in? What about her marriage? Was she Manglik? Did Shani preside over her janam kundli? Can she bear children? How long will we dwell in this claustrophobic complacency about child sexual violence?
In India children mysteriously disappear after dark, with as many as one every eight minutes, reports the National Crime Records Bureau. India remains a prime area for child trafficking, with a substantial number of children trafficked from bordering countries like Nepal and Bangladesh.
According to UNICEF, in 2009, an estimated 1.2 million children were being trafficked worldwide for sexual exploitation, including for prostitution or the production of sexually abusive images. Only 10% of human trafficking in India is international, while almost 90% is interstate.
Nearly 40,000 children are abducted every year, of which 11,000 remain untraced, according to a report by the National Human Rights Commission of India.
Instead of harping on Sanskrit, shouldn’t we be integrating sexual education into the school curriculum? Shouldn’t there be actual fast-tracking of rape cases? Corporal punishment for those who rape a child? What about Indian families – why hush up the ugly secrets? Why should mothers hide sanitary napkins from their curious adolescents and make up inane stories about how you came into this world?
Which Devi must we decorate?
(The writer is an ex lifestyle editor and PR vice president, and now a full-time novelist and columnist on sexuality and gender, based in Delhi. She is the author of ‘Faraway Music’, ‘Sita’s Curse’ and ‘You’ve Got The Wrong Girl’.)
On October 9, 2015, Choti Nirbhaya, a four-year-old child was raped by a man who was known to her family. Her family now needs financial support to take care of her education and ensure that her future is stable. The Quint in association with BitGiving has started a campaign to generate funds for Choti Nirbhaya. To help her, click here.
(This article has been republished from The Quint’s archives on the occasion of National Girl Child Day. It was first published on 11 October 2016.)