December 26, 2014 5:42:55 pm
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. Police are on a hunt for the man who sexually assaulted the minor girl. The shocking incident has come to light in village Sugao in Akole taluka of Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra. Police 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 has rescued the girl and has sent her to a rescue-home. She delivered the baby girl in October this year. The girl was staying secretly with the baby away from the village — apparently on her grandma’s advise — on a hill in a shanty so as to not attract attention. The incident came to light after locals noticed the girl and the daughter after 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 she 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-supersition activist working with Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (MANS), said that the child rights activists in the districts had taken up the issue soon after the alleged ‘marriage’ 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 and on her first day she was welcomed by giving 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,” said Gawande.
Gawande said 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 that they were in process of registering a complaint against the male companion – who has moved away and is being traced – 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,” said Patil
The tradition of devoting the first child is prevalent in many parts of Maharashtra. Sporadically several incidences of young girls being sexually harassed by temple staffers or others with whom the girls come in contact with during the rituals take place. Although these things happen in broad day light, the administration ignores it. Even in the present case, the cops were reluctant to register a case, said Gawande.
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