Kerala Director General of Police (Prisons) R Sreelekha has asked people to put in efforts to stop a controversial ritual involving minor boys as part of the ‘Pongala’ festivities at the famed Attukal Devi temple in state capital Thiruvananthapuram.
In an entry on her personal blog, the woman DGP lambasted the ‘Kuthiyottam’ ritual at the Attukal temple which involves small iron hooks pierced into the skin on the flanks of boys producing little drops of blood. Performed symbolically as a form of human-slaughter, a thread is knotted through the hooks and then taken out immediately. Nearly 1,000 young boys are slated to be a part of the ritual on March 2 (Friday) at the temple. A similar ritual, also performed at the Chettikulangara temple in Alappuzha district, was banned by the Kerala High Court in 2016.
“Parents conspire with temple authorities to put their children through rigorous mental and physical abuse for five days where 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. Yes, recite mantras and obey blindly their leaders too. They are not allowed to see their parents during this time,” the DGP wrote on her blog.
“And on the final day, each of them will 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. 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!” she wrote.
Sreelekha, the first woman in Kerala to be conferred with DGP rank, warned that the ritual invites charges under sections 89, 319, 320, 349, 350 and 351 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against those causing the children mental and physical agony. All these years, she wrote, she never knew about the ritual as she never saw photographs or news reports about it. She was shocked to learn that the son of her personal security officer was made to participate in the ritual last year, ostensibly against his wishes.
Sreelekha, who admitted to being a devotee of the Attukal goddess, compared the ritual to the sacrificial killing of goats at Assam’s famed Kamakhya temple. “All the boys in wet loin cloths bore the same look of the sacrificial goats of Kamakhya,” she wrote.
On March 2, millions of women are expected to line the streets of Thiruvananthapuram, cooking ‘pongala’ (a sweet dish consisting of rice porridge, jaggery and coconut gratings) in mud pots as an offering to the deity. It is the main part of the ten-day festival at the centuries-old temple.