A recent blog by controversial top cop R Sreelekha, Director General of Police (Prisons and Correctional Services), Kerala, on the age-old Kuthiyottam ritual in the world famous Attukal Devi temple in Thiruvananthapuram has raked up a huge controversy.
According to the lady IPS officer, the ritual in which boys aged between 5 and 12 are pierced with small metal hooks is a violation of child rights and is a punishable crime under the Indian Penal Code. Her claims have enraged the Hindu community who believe that this was a diversionary tactic by the ruling Communists who are facing flak for a series of unsavory incidents, including the lynching of starving tribal youth Madhu, and “the ambitious cop has taken supari (quotation in local parlance) from her political masters.” Police sources say she has been angling for the post of state police chief and therefore wants to be in the good books of CPI(M) leaders.
The timing of the blog is also a suspect, as the famous Pongala festival, arguably the biggest women-only ritualistic congregation in the world, is underway.
Sreelekha, the first woman IPS officer of the state, has ventured in literature and social causes at various occasions. She is a regular columnist in some of the popular woman magazines in the state. In the blog she alleges that Kuthiyottam is a painful practice through which the boys gets injured and will have to stay in prison-like situation.
She writes: “For 1,000 odd boys, it’s torture time in Attukal now. Parents conspire with temple authorities to put their children through rigorous mental and physical abuse for five days where boys from the age of 5 to 12 are made to wear just a loin cloth, submerge in cold water thrice daily, eat measly morsels squatting on the floor and sleep on the bare temple ground. Yes, recite mantras and obey blindly their leaders too. They are not allowed to see their parents during this time. And on the final day, each of them will be decked up with yellow cloths, garlands, jewellery and make up on face including lipstick and made to stand in a queue for their last unexpected torture. 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 hooks are pulled out and ash roughly applied on the wounds! All this is for the temple deity!”
A majority of her critics are those who have undergone this ritual in their childhood. They narrate a different story altogether. They reminisce those days as a joyous week of their childhood. They can have three times of bath in a pond, that too in the hot month of March, and were free to play with other boys, and yes they agree that the homesickness was a problem in the initial days. But they say the knotting of the tiny hook was less painful than an injection. They allege that Sreelekha has exaggerated the things because she might have an axe to grind.
Since Sreelekha is a serving officer of the Kerala police and the citation of different sections in the IPC, the state Juvenile Justice Department has initiated suo motu case against temple authorities.
The Attukal Devi Temple Trust has come down heavily on the police officer and alleged that the move was an attempt to create panic among devotees. It also stated that the High Court of Kerala has said that “Kuthiyottam” is a temple ritual.
Various Hindu organisations are up in arms against Sreelekha as she willfully indulged in the temple rituals with a malicious intention to tarnish the Hindu community in order to help the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front in Kerala. “Why these “progressive people” are silent on primitive and heinous practices of the Muslim community such as female genital mutilation and male circumcision carried out on children,” they asked.
The Hindu society in Kerala has modernized rituals by outlawing many outdated practices. The Garudan Thookkam (piercing of hooks on to a man’s skin and hanging him on a pole), abusive songs at temples, animal sacrifices, were abolished by the Hindu organisations led by the Sangh Parivar. The Sangh Parivar even convinced the Brahmin community to stop animal sacrifice before Athiratram, a yajna.
It must be mentioned here that whenever the Left Democratic Front government is facing a crisis, it targets Hindu community and belief systems. Besides, there has been a systematic attempt by anti-Hindu forces to target prominent Hindu festivals and temples.