Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Child Diksha Issue in High Court

MUMBAI: Right to childhood conflicts with right to religion, observed the
Bombay High Court on Monday while hearing petitions saying child diksha or renunciation is a practice integral to Jainism.

A division bench of Justice P B Majmudar and Justice Mridula Bhatkar was hearing a petition filed by Ashok Bagricha and others challenging the jurisdiction of the
Child Welfare Committee (CWC). In March 2004, a diksha ceremony in which an eight-year-old girl renounced the material world had created a furor among child rights activists. It was brought to the attention of the CWC by Childline, an NGO. In July 2006, the high court had directed the CWC to find whether she had taken diksha voluntarily or had been forced to do so. The CWC reported that the young girl needed care. Her parents challenged the CWC order in the HC, which granted a stay on it.

Bagricha's counsel Srihari Aney said, "The CWC passed the order without considering it is a practice of my religion.''

The judges asked who takes the decision for a child. Aney said it is not a hasty decision. A child sadhvi is brought to stay for two years with a senior who recommends whether she has to be taken into the fold or not. This further goes through a deliberation process before acceptance into the fold, he added.

"The court is concerned only with the legal point and not religious sentiments," said Justice Majmudar. "What if a child is not happy? If he is ill-treated in the mutt?" he asked. Aney said there is not a single such case of ill-treatment.

"They are well-supported by the community,'' he said. Justice Bhatkar said the right to childhood is covered under Article 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution. "Whether right to childhood will conflict with right to religion (Freedom of Religion, Article 25)? This would include right to laugh, to cry, to play. There is a conflict," said Justice Bhatkar. Aney said the girl is now over 16 and "capable of entering the convent on her own".

The judges were told that the minimum age for diksha is eight. "Can a child also be taken from the maternity house immediately after he is born?'' asked Justice Majmudar. Aney said it is not that child diksha is rampant in the community. .

Aney urged the court to decide the issue once and for all. Adjourning the matter, the judges directed that affidavits be filed by two sects of Jainism, including those by experts on the issue.

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