- Religious leaders laud the 'achievement' of children, without considering their maturity
- The argument is clearly to delink Aradhana's death from the long period of fasting and establish that going hungry did not kill her.
Jain monk Acharya Vijay Ratnasundara is cheesed off. He is angry with the manner in which Laxmichand Samdariya, the father of 13-year-old Aradhana who died two days after completing a 68-day-long fast in Hyderabad last week, is being targeted by the child rights activists. In his opinion, it reeks of hypocrisy.
"Why doesn't the government do anything about the five lakh children who die of diarrhea every year," fumes Acharya Vijay Ratnasundara.
Hailed as a Bal Tapasvi till the other day, now Aradhana is a story that went horribly wrong. The Jain community also is closing ranks around the Samdariyas. Industrialist Narendra Surana says it is unfair to target the family alone.
"It is a tragedy for the family as it is. They were trying to encourage the daughter. People and kids get carried away," says Surana.
In many a Jain family, it is not considered wrong to subject, coerce, nudge a minor to undertake fasts in the name of religion. The atmosphere at home where religion reigns supreme means the child, without having the maturity to think for himself, comes under pressure to fall in line. It then becomes a silly challenge to go hungry, surviving on boiled water, for as many days. Because at the end of it, religious leaders laud the achievement of the young one, making the child feel good with what he or she has done.
Has Aradhana's death been a wake-up call? While Laxmichand Samdariya says he will not let his younger daughter emulate the one who is no more, the larger community does not seem to think so. Why would 640 prominent Jains in Hyderabad otherwise showcase 19 children, most of them younger than Aradhana and who had fasted for similarly long periods of time. The argument is clearly to delink Aradhana's death from the long period of fasting and establish that going hungry did not kill her.
The Hyderabad police has been given a copy of this dossier. It contains Facebook posts with photographs of these kids, that tell you the story of a community that celebrates the act of penance. A boy at the age of 8 in November last year is believed to have fasted for 83 days in Ahmedabad. Another boy, also in Ahmedabad fasted in September 2013 for 68 days. In August this year, a 6-year-old boy and his 9-year-old sister in the same Gujarat city fasted together for 75 days.
Balala Hakkulu Sangham, a child rights organisation that has asked for murder charges to be pressed against Aradhana's parents, has been attacked viciously by the community. One of them, Tejas Shah writes in from Gujarat, "By this FIR, you are spreading hate about Jainism. It is to be deemed that spreading hate about the religion may lead to FIR against you."
The Hyderabad police is in a fix because just on Wednesday it has seen in the Old city area, children being made to flog themselves and pierce themselves with knives during the Moharram procession. Given the intensity of the blood letting, it is quite possible that something could go horribly wrong some year. Why is it that the law does not come in to ensure minors are not subjected to this brutal practise.
"Even one-month-old babies are inflicted with a small wound," says MA Shakeel, Human rights activist. "The sad part is no one dares to question such religious practises."
Or in Chennai the other day during an AIADMK legislator sponsored event to pray for Jayalalithaa. Children were made to pierce their cheeks with the weapon used by mythological God Lord Murugan - from one cheek to the other through the tongue. This is a practise in vogue in rural Tamil Nadu. But social activists say the courts often take a lenient view of it if the parents do not have an objection to it.
"For generations they have been doing this. Some of them will even say it is painless. How do you establish abuse," asks A Narayanan, Chennai-based social activist. "Courts have limited scope when it comes to matters involving religion."
The question Jains are asking is if those macabre practises in Islam and Hinduism are allowed, why is the law of the land interfering their religious matter.
Last Updated 31, Mar 2018, 7:00 PM IST