Bizarre child-dropping ritual faces ban in Karnataka
Dec 16, 2007, 7:12 GMT
Bangalore, Dec 16 (IANS) A bizarre ritual of dropping children between one and five years from a height of up to 20 feet in a Karnataka village to fulfil a vow to the gods will be banned, a senior state official has said.
The annual ritual takes place in December at the Shiva Parvathi temple coinciding with the village fair in Nidoni village in Bijapur district in this southern Indian state otherwise known globally for its software and outsourcing industry.
Couples without children for a long time take a vow that if they are blessed with a child, they will have their newborn dropped from atop the Shiva Parvathi temple, said panchayat secretary Ramesh Gawari, a native of Nidoni, 550 km northwest of Bangalore.
However, none of the children suffers any injury. The temple priest and four to five others stand atop the temple to drop down the children who fall into a blanket held about four to five feet above the ground by a group of six men.
The ground below the blanket is also covered with cotton, beds and other soft material as a protective measure, according to Gawari.
Shalini Rajneesh, state women and child development secretary, has directed Bijapur Deputy Commissioner V.B. Patil to take steps to ban the ritual forthwith.
'Such activities should be banned forthwith,' she said in her directive to Patil early this week.
This year the ritual took place Dec 8, Nidoni gram panchayat president Mahesh Mali said.
'The practice has been there for several decades now and so far no child has been injured,' Mali told IANS over phone from Nidoni.
The ritual is followed mostly by people of Nidoni, which has a population of around 9,000.
'No, no one has opposed the ritual nor has any campaign been carried out against it. It is voluntary. No one is forced to follow it,' Gawari said.
Couples who have taken the vow to follow this ritual have to pay Rs.100 and register with the committee formed to conduct the village fair. The money goes into the temple fund.
'This year, between 60 and 70 children were dropped from atop the temple,' he said.
A cattle fair, bullock race, kabaddi and other games are organised as part of the fair, said a senior police official of the district who went to the village on a fact-finding mission following reports in the local media on the bizarre ritual.
'Looks like this practice has been there for hundreds of years in the village but not many were aware of it,' the official said, requesting anonymity as he has to take steps to deal with the delicate issue involving belief of a section of people.
Village officials and elders said the practice has been there from a very, very long time, but could not say exactly when.
There were varying figures on the number of children dropped this year, their age and the height from which they were dropped.
A section of the Bangalore media quoted the temple priest as saying that 101 children were dropped.
However, panchayat president Mali claimed only 25 or 30 children were dropped.
While local media said babies as young as six months were dropped, Mali said only children above one year were involved.
He also said the height from which the children were dropped was not more than 7-10 feet. But police and other panchayat officials said it was about 15 feet, while media reports put it at between 15 and 20 feet.
District police said since they visited the village after the event it was difficult to pin down the exact number of children, and their age, who went through this experience.
Nidoni is a backward village though it has a high school.
'Saadharan (it is ok),' Mali said when asked about the educational standard in the village. The nearest primary health centre run by the state government is in Babaleshwar, six km from Nidoni.
Agriculture is the primary occupation with grapes, jowar and sunflower being the main crops.
'We expect the district officials to visit Nidoni in the next few days and apprise us of the steps taken to end such rituals,' a senior official of the women and child development department said in Bangalore.
'There is time as the next village fair is only in December next year,' Mali said when asked what his gram panchayat planned to do to put an end to the ritual.
Even some NGOs in Bijapur working towards prevention and elimination of child labour and empowerment of women were ignorant of the ritual till the local media reported it.
© 2007 Indo-Asian News Service