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Kerala DGP Against 'Kuthiyottam' Ritual, Calls It Torture of Kids

"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.

PTI

Updated:February 28, 2018, 3:21 PM IST
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Kerala DGP Against 'Kuthiyottam' Ritual, Calls It Torture of Kids
Tamil people celebrating Pongal festival at Sadar Ramlila Maidan in Jabalpur. (Image: PTI)
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Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala's lone woman DGP R Sreelekha has sparked a controversy by seeking to stop 'Kuthiyottam', a traditional ritual held as part of pongala festivities at the famed Attukal Devi temple here, 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 on Tuesday, 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," Chandrasekhara Pillai, Chairman, Attukal Bhagawathy Temple Trust, told PTI.

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.

Sreelekha also compared the 'kuthiyottam' boys with thegoats to be sacrificed at Guwahatis Kamaakhya temple.

"All the boys in wet loin cloths bore the same look of the sacrificial goats of Kamakhya," she said.
The first woman IPS officer of Kerala also said though she was a devotee of Goddess Attukalamma, she was not offering pongala this year "unless there will be a divine intervention to stop this from happening."

This time at least, I pray Attukal Amma to save her boy soldiers from getting physically hurt in Her name!" she added.

According to belief, the 'kuthiyottam' boys represent the wounded soldiers of the Goddess. Participants stay at the shrine and go through the penance till the end of the nine-day festival. This year, over 980 boys are taking part in the ritual, temple sources said.

One of the world's largest all-women religious events, "Attukal Pongala" witnesses congregation of lakhs of women to the city preparing the offering to the Goddess on the streets.

During Pongala day,women from various parts of Kerala and outside prepare 'pongala' (a mix of rice, jaggery and coconut) in fresh earthen or metal pots as an offering to Attukal Devi, the presiding deity, in makeshift brick stoves.
| Edited by: Ahona Sengupta
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