DGP Sreelekha against ‘Kuthiyottam’ ritual; calls it torture of kids

Kerala’s lone woman DGP R. Sreelekha sparked a controversy by seeking to stop ‘Kuthiyottam’, a traditional ritual held as part of ‘pongala’ festivities at the famed Attukal Devi temple, which witnesses massive congregation of women devotees.

‘Pongala’ has found a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as “the largest gathering of women” based on the 2.5 million turnout in 2009.

“Kuthiyottam” is a ritual performed by boys below the age of 13 years after observing a seven-day ‘vritham’ (penance) as part of the annual festivities.

As the state is gearing up for yet another ‘pongala’ fest on March 2 this year, the IPS officer said in a blog that the ritual was a “torture” for the boys as they have to go through ‘rigorous mental and physical abuse” during the period.

“Causing physical and mental pain to children are offences under Sections 89, 319, 320, 349, 350, 351 of the Indian Penal Code,” she said, adding that the Juvenile Justice Act and the Child Welfare Commission Act penalise it.

The officer, who is now serving as the Jail DGP, asked “Can we call it (the temple) Boy’s Prison Cell?” and said it was time to “stop this yearly crime in the name of faith!”

However, the temple authorities rejected the charges and said no one is being forced by the shrine to participate in the ritual.

“We are not forcing anybody and it is only a ritual. It is unbecoming of a DGP rank officer to come out with a misleading statement especially at a time when the annual festival is on,” V. Chandrasekhara Pillai, Chairman, Attukal Bhagawathy Temple Trust, told.

He also said there is a High Court directive that none should interfere in the temple’s rituals and customs.

According to Sreelekha, parents ‘conspire’ with temple authorities to put their children through rigorous mental and physical abuse.

“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,” she said, adding that they are not even allowed to see their parents during this time.

And on the final day, each of them would 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”, she said.

“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 for temple deity!” the DGP said.

The lady officer also wondered how would Goddess Attukal Amma, the principal deity of the shrine, be feeling about it.


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