Monday, February 18, 2013

Religion and Child Rights

Religion and child rights
Until 1977 we lived in Chembur, Bombay . There are some things that will never be erased from my memory - When I was in VII standard a class mate –Chanda , Gujarathi Jain , very naughty, playing pranks on all of us and constantly talking and getting into trouble with teachers for talking during class , suddenly stopped coming to class. She was one person who was missed by teachers and students alike. Every teacher who came to class would invariably ask after five minutes of class- Where’s Chanda ? Why is she absent? Class is so quiet? No one had the answer.
Later one day we came to know that Chanda was going to become a saint-renounce material life in a special ceremony that evening. Few of us who went to see her later could not believe it was the same Chanda who loved bright floral prints and had beautifu l straight hair- in a white sari, head shaven and looking serene and quiet. I couldnot undersand- why ?
A few years after moving to Coimbatore we were watching on T.V, a young sharp and bright looking boy being chosen as the next Shankarcharya of Kanchipuram . The news that caught my attention and has stayed in my mind so long was not the ritual itself but that the 14 year old lad was being fed by his mother his favourite food Poories and Aloo sabzi. His last meal before renunciation. After that neither will he be allowed to meet his mother nor will he be allowed to eat what his heart yearns for. He was going to take Sanyas.
While in college , a convent college, we had as classmates a few Christian nuns in the class with us. They were just like all of us girls when it came to giggling and chatting etc but for their attire. Our class mate was a sweet petite ever smiling nun by the name Regina Mary. We called her Sister Regi. Once a month on Mondays post lunch was movie time in our college. Even if we girls gave it a skip our Sr. Regi would definitely go to see it. We would tease and rag sister Regi when some “ love scenes “ were on screen and ask her to close her eyes. She would just laugh us off. Kamal Haasan was her favourite actor too- like he was to all of us then. She would also hide Mills and Boon inside her note books and read them secretly. We didn’t see anything wrong of course. They were just like us.
Once while chatting I posed the question that was chewing my brains for a long time- why did you choose to become a nun? She very matter or factly told us- we are a very poor and big family. When my younger brother was very sick my parents prayed to God and they took an oath that if he gets well they would pledge one child to the church-so I was sent here. To the question- don’t you miss home? She said,” when I left home I was much younger so cried and even ran away to home once to be sent back here,but now I have got used to this and accepted this life. I did this for my brother Right? “
Now very recently, a couple of days back I read an article about how young boys were chosen, and sent away with the Naga Sadhus after a 12 year training and preparation period during which they learn to live a life of rigour and sainthood.The article ( In Deccan Chronicle) mentioned how when a 12 yr old bal naga was asked why he was becoming a sadhu he said- “After his parents’ death his uncle could not take care of him and wanted him to join an ashram in Tamil Nadu. He chose this.”
What forces a child to suddenly take up Sanyas? Does he have a say in this big decision of his life? Does the child know what he is getting into? Do you think the child will be told that he will not get ice cream, will not get to play always, will not get to see his parents or fuss while his mother feeds him, will not get to wear good clothes, will not get to play with toys. He has renounced all the worldly pleasures, remember? All this when rest of his family members and friends are enjoying a normal family. When his brother or sister chips a nail his mother would go running to kiss the wounds away but this sanyasi boy will either be doing his prayers in church, or keeping a fast or living in a cave in Himalayas.
Has any one questioned this? Do we dare question religion? NO WAY.
What about child rights? Who will become their voice? Or doesn’t anybody care.
Is every thing done in the name of religion right ? No, Never, Then why aren’t there any rules to stop any one from forcing their minor child into religious sainthood.
In a day and age when there’s a school of thought that says that a child is not born a Hindu, Muslim, or Christian or atheist . And he should be allowed to decide that for himself when he grows up. How can religion give us the license of robbing his childhood from a child. What about the Child’s right to stay home, his home with his family and follow his dreams-be it become a cricketer or scientist or if he chooses later in life the spiritual path. It should be his choice?

Think about this:
• Most of these children are from poor families. A case of Religion exploiting the poor in yet another way.
• When a minor ( by 3 months) brutally raped and murdered a young girl in Delhi , as per law his right to be treated as a minor was called upon. What about these young children who are sent by their families to live a life bereft of childhood and lot of restrain and hardship ?
• When an Indian child in Norway was taken away from his parents it made headlines in all media. But why isn’t media debating this right misused by religion?
* Thers's a legal age fo marraige. Not renunciation or Sanyas.

Isn’t there any law to stop this?
Who will stand up against religion in such cases? Who dares to?