A young girl who was forcibly “married” to a deity when she was two years old has given birth to a baby daughter at the age of 13.
The shocking incident has come to light in village Sugao in Akole taluka of Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra.
Police are on a hunt for the man who sexually assaulted the minor girl. They are investigating the role of maternal grandmother of the victim who allegedly forced the victim to become a Murali — a girl child devoted to Lord Khandoba.
The police have rescued the girl and sent her to a shelter.
The girl, who delivered the baby girl in October this year, had been staying secretly with the baby away from the village, apparently on her grandmother’s advice, in a shanty on a hill so as to not attract attention. The incident came to light after locals noticed the girl and the daughter when she returned to her grandmother’s house with a two-month-old baby.
As per this “tradition” in Maharashtra, childless couples pray to deity Lord Khandoba for a child promising that if they are “blessed” with children, the first child will be devoted to his worship. The child is given away and is devoted to performing a ritual called Jagran in temples and households.
A boy devoted to Khandoba is called Waghya while a girl is termed Murali.
In the present case, the grandmother had made such a wish for her daughter and when the victim, the first child of the daughter, was born, she made up her mind to give her away to Khandoba.
At the age of two, the girl was “married” to the deity. When she attained the age of 10, she was made to stay with a waghya, considered to be her husband on behalf of Lord Khandoba, and the couple started to participate in the Jagran rituals which involve performing the songs in the praise of Khandoba.
Ranjana Gawande, an anti-superstition activist working with Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (MANS), said the child rights activists in the districts had taken up the issue soon after her alleged “marriage” with waghya happened three years ago, but the grandmother persisted.
“The local people, teachers and activists – especially Heramb Kulkarni of NGO SPARK – had tried to bring her to the school. Four years ago, she was admitted to the school. On her first day, she was welcomed with a uniform and school bag. But she dropped out soon as she had to attend the rituals in and around the village. The family was not willing to send her to school as she used to get Rs 500 per performance,” Gawande said.
According to Gawande, that the family is poor and earns a living by working as labourers in brick-kilns. The victims mother has re-married and has migrated to some other village. The victim stays with her grandmother.
Police Inspector M B Kulkarni of Akole Police Station said they were in process of registering a complaint against the male companion, who has since been absconding, for “marrying” a minor girl and sexually assaulting her.
“We have also asked or legal opinion of the Devdasi Protection Board to see how the Devdasi Protection Act can be used in the present case. We have recorded the statement of the victim and the grandmother and will book the latter under the appropriate sections,” Patil said.
The tradition of devoting the first child to the deity is prevalent in many parts of Maharashtra.
There have been several instances of young girls being sexually harassed by temple staff or others with whom the girls come in contact during the rituals.