Tamil Nadu

HC to decide validity of making 6-year-old from Badaga community a temple priest

The Madras High Court has embarked on an exercise to decide whether a six-year-old boy can be appointed as a priest, not allowed to step outside the temple for any reason and prohibited from meeting any female as per a custom reportedly followed by the Badaga community in the Nilgiris since 14th Century.

Acting Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu have directed the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department Commissioner to file a counter affidavit after a public interest litigant questioned before the court the correctness of subjecting a child to such diktats.

D. Sivan of Kattabettu village in Kothagiri had filed the case complaining about a minor boy, now an eight-year-old, serving as a priest of the Shree Hethai Amman temple at Pedala Naduhatty village in the hill station since 2019. He claimed that the boy had been deprived of his childhood and proper education.

The petitioner’s counsel Thanga Vadhana Balakrishnan brought it to the notice of the court that, as per customs, the temple priest was supposed to stay inside the temple at all times. The court was told that though the child was enrolled in Class II in a panchayat union school, his parents had forced him to discontinue on August 16 this year.

Filing a counter affidavit, Udhagamandalam Block Education Officer (BEO) K. Balamurugan conceded that the boy was appointed as a priest in 2019 and justified such appointment on the ground that it was an age-old custom of the community to appoint a child between five and 14 years of age as a priest.

“Since this religious custom is followed by the entire Badaga community for a very long period, it cannot be broken. It is the custom that the priest shall be only on the premises of the temple and shall not leave the premises for any reason,” the official said. He went on to state that the boy was admitted in Class I under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act on July 5, 2019, and was provided with textbooks and other reading materials free of cost. He was given tuition by a qualified male teacher on the temple premises itself.

“It is stated that the minor is also being taught different subjects and given coaching by other qualified male educationists with his and his parent’s consent. As per the age-old custom, females are not allowed to meet the priest and hence, male teachers were arranged,” the BEO added.

Conceding that the child’s parents had obtained a transfer certificate on August 16, the official said they were counselled, and the child was re-admitted on November 8. The BEO accused the PIL petitioner of having filed the case to settle personal scores and create disharmony. The official urged the court to dismiss the case with exemplary costs.

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Printable version | Jan 22, 2022 3:10:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/hc-to-decide-validity-of-making-6-year-old-from-badaga-community-a-temple-priest/article37651736.ece

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