September 25, 2017
COVAI POST IMPACT
Madurai: Based on The Covai Post expose of seven girls in teens and pre-teens being paraded half-naked and made to stay in a temple at Vellalur in Madurai district for 15 days, Collector K Veera Raghava Rao has formed an enquiry committee to probe the issue.
The committee comprises Melur tahsildar V Tamilselvi, Social Welfare Officer P Shanthi and Child Protection Unit counsellor Shobana. Vellalur Revenue Inspector (RI) Karthik Babu and the village administrative officer are also part of the team.
The annual ritual of temple priest of Yezhaikaatha Amman Temple in Vellalur selecting 7 girls among scores of them (all in the age group of 10 and 14), all of whom are paraded half-naked before a crowd, and making the handpicked girls stay in the temple for 15 days to do services to the deity has been in vogue for several years now.
When the issue was taken to the knowledge of the Collector, he promised to enquire and take immediate action. Thereafter, he sent a committee headed by the social welfare officer and Deputy Superintendent of Police Chakkaravarthi.
“When we enquired the parents, they said it is their religious belief and traditional practice and their girl children do not go to school out of their own will as they have been selected to do services to the Goddess. But we have told the village elders that the girls should be allowed to wear upper garments and they have promised to consult the elders and take a decision ahead of the next festival. Since tomorrow (Tuesday) is the main day of the festival, we could not interfere much. But we will follow it up and counsel the parents,” Shanthi told The Covai Post.
Melur tahsildar Tamilselvi claimed they were all small children and do not show any symptoms of attaining puberty. When told that 3 of the girls were studying Class VIII and 2 of them Class VII and the other 2 Class V, she said, “Anyhow, they look like small children in bodily growth.”
Shanthi said they have taken a letter from the festival organisers and the parents which would be handed over to the Collector. Asked what has been written in it, she said, “I am yet to go through the contents in the letter.”
Meanwhile, social activists have raised serious objection to making the adolescent girls vulnerable for exploitation under the garb of religious practice. SOCO Trust, a Madurai-based NGO, has decided to take the issue to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). Its Executive Director S Selva Gomathy said, “We will be sending a complaint to the NHRC on Tuesday. When sexual assault of minors is on the rise, this shocking practice in the name of religious ritual gives much scope for harassment and abuse of adolescent girls. By parading them half-naked and making them stay in temple for a fortnight, their rights are violated.”