It is ashtami or kanjak today. We all know what it is. I didn’t really mind it - urchins running around for poorie and halwa, even entering well-to-do houses, the only time in a year, to demand a few bucks and food - till I woke up to news of a 13-year-old Jain girl, from a wealthy family, dying from fasting for a straight 68 days. That’s more than two months of going without food.
Her family, instead of knocking some sense into her, was proud. They dressed her up as a devi, which is what kanjak also is about: celebrating the pre-pubescent girl child as an incarnation of a goddess, or the mother god, durga, kali, parvati, sati.
Now, lots of girls go hungry in this country, but the irony here is this was the daughter of a wealthy jeweller. Her curse was not poverty but extreme religiosity of her family.
The Indian Express says she was sent for a two-month monks’ retreat and her father took pride in all things religious, not really in the academic achievement of his two daughters. People visited the house and took selfies with the dying child.
Now pay careful attention to this: the school she was enrolled in did not realise she was dying. I understand that, but do not forgive it. Schools are busy places, teachers are stressed by the large number of students per class and can’t really bother about one particular student suddenly staying at home.
That is why the state needs to step in: We desperately need child right protection cells in every major city. As India modernises, the welfare of children cannot be left solely to family and community.
|Can a 13-year-old be allowed to marry just because religion lets her do it? Will it be okay if she commits sati because her family and community are fine with it? (Photo credit: India Today)|
That’s because there is a clash between how a modern state views child rights and how communities view them. A particular community, say Jains over here, may view fasting-unto-death by a minor girl as something religious and perfectly okay, but modern India cannot, and should not, view it that way.
Can a 13-year-old be allowed to marry just because religion lets her do it? Will it be okay if she commits sati because her family and community are fine with it?
Remember, India still has child marriage but it is illegal, and condemned by all, not because religion saw it like that but because our courts did. Because modern India did.
We can’t allow religion and religious diktats to dictate how our children will be treated. The state has to step in to protect the child.
The burden of outdated, and extreme religious practices, inevitably falls on young and vulnerable children, voiceless and easily indoctrinated.
Young girls are particularly prone to meet high parental and community expectations by proving themselves as “good girls” or ideal daughters through exemplary behaviour. That’s one of the reasons why girls are docile and not badass, unlike sons.
Let's protect our children from ourselves. Child protection units must be activated, and must take action, when such cases happen. Even at the cost of taking on a community, and its beliefs.
Our children need to lead normal, healthy lives. Not die for our outdated practices.