Image of child’s cheeks pierced as part of temple ritual sparks debate in Kerala
KeralaMegha Varier| Monday, April 27, 2015 – 18:30

On April 25th, Kerala Kaumudi, a Malayalam newspaper published a photograph of a young boy in pain, his cheeks pierced with a long needle with rupee notes and lemons stuck to it.

The photograph was taken at a festival in Pallipurathukavu Bhagavathy temple in Kottayam.

Alappuzha MLA Dr.Thomas Issac shared the news on his Facebook page that invited comments from over a hundred people, most questioning the ‘absurdity’ of such practices. Some pointed out that practice of bizarre activities in the name of rituals shall be banned. Others said that the act in question shall be considered as an instance of child abuse and necessary action should be taken by the National Human Rights Commission.

Thomas Issac wrote that he is ‘deeply distressed’ by the act. Issac moves on to point out that a ‘Science Miracle Show’ was organized by the Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad in Alappuzha last week to underscore the importance of scientific temperament.

Thomas Issac expressing sorrow may be good and acceptable, but the bigger point of concern is that he stops with that, not going into the larger debate- is there a way to ensure that children are kept out of the ambit of such rituals?

Mohanan Manalil, the organizer of the Science Miracle show said that the event was organized to develop scientific temper in people. “Words like scientific temper remain confined in our constitution alone, but it isn’t put to practice. People today, lack the ability to think and fall prey to false practices based on superstition and those sugar-quoted as religious rituals”, he said.

Mohanan, along with his team comprising P Prasad, UP Nazar and AC Surendran has been organizing the show for the past one year across the state, to create awareness among people against false claims propagated by god men as well as corporates that sell products that people don’t even care to check the contents of, before using them.

“A three day programme was put up for Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad last week. In the two hour show, we demonstrated practices like burning lamps using water instead of oil, retrieving gold from the air, mind reading, and the like, and exposed how self-proclaimed god men does such activities to fool people”, Mohanan said.

The three day science miracle show that was hosted on the 24th, 25th and 26th of this month coincided with the cheek piercing incident in Kottayam. Asked about the relevance and reach of the show at a time when people blindly practice superstition by completely surpassing scientific explanation, he says that in the absence of concrete laws against superstition, what the Parishad can do is to spread awareness among people and encourage them to think.

Dr.NK Sasidharan Pillai, President of Kerala Sashtra Sahithya Parishad informed that a national level seminar is being organized on May 10th as part of the annual meet to discuss the need to have a scientific outlook .The question still remains: Are organizing seminars enough to change the way people think?

A piercing ritual in a temple could be in accordance with some people’s faith, but when children are made part of such rituals, should child protection rights kick in?

A member of the Child Development Centre in Kerala on conditions of anonymity said,”Though this does become a violation of child rights, and someone wishes to go to court, it won’t stand legal scrutiny as religion is involved. The only solution then is some guidelines or a law.”