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9-year-old girl shuns worldly life, inducted as 'Sadhvi': Is it fair to let a child become a monk?

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Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

BHOPAL: A nine-year-old girl shunned material world and severed her ties with the family, as she was inducted as a Jain 'sadhvi'.

The girl, Priyanshi, was initiated into the order of Shwetambar Jain ascetics in a grand ceremony held in Indore recently. However, the practice of turning a child into a ‘sadhvi’ raises several questions.

As she took the first steps on way to become the ‘sadhvi’, the nine-year-old was aware that her life had undergone a major change.

After her hair got plucked out, she came out dressed in white and covering her head. Priyanshi who was fondly called Pari by her parents, will now be known as Sadhvi Sohamnidhishri Ji for the rest of her life.

She will no longer use footwear, observe strict rules, lead an austere life and will never marry. Priyanshi's family hails from Thandla town in Western MP.

The kin say that she voluntarily decided to take 'deeksha'. But is it fair to turn a minor into a monk (or nun)?

Top politicians, prominent citizens and members of Jain community were present during the event held earlier this month. Apart from her, two other women got inducted as 'sadhvis'--an eighteen-year-old and a seventy five year old.

Recently, a Jain couple's decision to renounce world had caused a storm, especially, because their daughter was just three years old.

However, in the particular case the child's grandfather said that he would take care of the kid. The couple hailed from Madhya Pradesh and owned a Rs 100 crore business.

Besides, just a few months ago, seven Jain girls had taken 'deeksha' in Bhind town in MP. In the latest incident, on March 13 too, a girl took deeksha in Sehore town in MP. However, none of them is a minor.

Priyanshi is a minor. In the past, when a minor girl hailing from Madhya Pradesh was given 'deeksha', activists had raised the issue but the police were unable to act, citing it as a religious practice.

Child rights activists have in the past questioned the practice and said that letting a child initiated into monkhood is not fair, and allowing the kid to join the order, citing minors' consent is not proper.

For a girl as young as nine, it can be difficult to cope up with the demands of living like an ascetic—ranging from strict rules for eating and other aspects of life to going from one town to another on foot.

Even if for the time being, the girl has made up her mind to live like a ‘sadhvi’, isn’t it too early to take such a decision?

A couple of months or years later, the enormity of the decision may be felt by the child. Leaving parents and relatives forever can cause great trauma.

But this is not sole such case. There are many cases of ‘baal deeksha’ in the country. Children get drawn towards the monks. It is also because of the special status and the utmost reverence shown towards the monks.

Shouldn’t the elders in the community let children be with the family till they are eighteen or a suitable age, and if they are still attracted to the idea, then let them join the order!

Pari's father Pankaj Tated is in a private job while her mother is a housewife. She has a seven-year-old brother too. Talking to media persons, the family members had said that she had earlier spent time with the Sadhvis and took the decision voluntarily.

Senior Jain community leaders claim that there is no pressure to take ‘deeksha’ and in case of children, the rules are relaxed for minors.

Social activist Amit Kumar Jain says that it’s not very common for minors to be inducted as a monk. “There are many sects among Jains and not in every sect, children are initiated into the monkhood”, he added.

Child rights activist Archana Sahay says that this is a violation of child’s rights. “It is not fair to allow a minor to leave her family and renounce the world. After the age of eighteen, the person can take a decision about his or her life”, she says.

HOW NEWSPAPERS REPORTED IT IN MADHYA PRADESH

English papers didn't cover the story in this region. However, Hindi paper's case was different. Unlike past when in case of 'baal deeksha', media reports raised questions too, this time it was celebrated.

Mass circulated Hindi daily Patrika carried a photo on front page terming it 'historic moment' along with a long caption and an exhaustive five column report on fourth page with the headline, 'Pari banee Sohamnidhi....'.

It also mentioned that senior BJP leaders and even minorities' commission member Sudhir Singhvi were present on the occasion.

Nai Dunia, one of the oldest and most important Hindi papers of the region, carried a stroy on front page, with a photo of Priyanshi alias Pari. It mentioned, 'chhoti umr mein naazuk pairon se woh sanyaas ki kathin dagar par chalegi'.

The paper quoted the organising committee convenor, Lalit C Jain, as saying, "This is the first such occasion in Jain samaj in Indore when three females are taking deeksha at a time". Dainik Bhaskar had also covered the event well, with over six column report.

The long headline was 'Indore mein Acharya Navratna Sagar ke pachhattarvein janmotsav mein aaj nau varshiya baalika se le kar pachahattar saal ki buzurg ek saath lengi Jain diksha'. The papers reported the grand ceremony, that how hundreds of monks and thousands of community members attended the event.