Whatever happened to the Kumari case?
I blogged in November that the Nepalese Supreme Court had ordered an enquiry into the human rights violations involved in this practice of pre-pubescent virgin worship, which involves the isolation and use of a small girl as, in effect, a living statuette of the Goddess Taleju, an almost literal object of worship.
At that time, the news was that the committee had three months to report – so the report was due in February. Bikash Sangraula’s article in Christian Science Monitor (ugh) confirmed on 2 January 2007 that the report was still due in early February. Sangraula’s follow-up article in eKantipur on 24 February suggests that things had slipped a bit – the committee formed “a month ago” (NOT in November 2006?), had met only once, and had another two months before its report was due. Even on that slippage, where is the report? It should have been out by now, surely? Apparently, it is not or, if it is, then the English language media (including websites dedicated to the Kumari) seem to be having a blackout.
Sangraula’s articles are not promising on the likely outcome of the case, either. They both include an interview with 26-year-old ex-goddess Rashmila Shakya who regards her time as a goddess as a wonderful experience of privilege, her almost total lack of education notwithstanding – and almost completely glosses over the very serious damage that clearly was done to other Kumaris. The second article also includes the following:
“Jal Krishna Shrestha, who has taken a closer look at the tradition after being given the responsibility of coordinating the committee, also said that contrary to what rumors suggest, the Kumaris are provided with proper education and care.
“There is no evidence of rights violation,” he said. “Like any important personality, say a president or a prime minister, a Kumari is required to follow a code of conduct in her everyday life. She is not allowed to walk around as freely as ordinary girls. That is very normal,” he argued.”
“Like any important personality?” – except that a Kumari does not choose to be a goddess, at least not in any meaningful way – she is a very small child when the decision is made.
Nor does the “code of conduct” which a Kumari must follow in any way resemble the constraints on politicians or others in public life. Here are some snippets from this website, describing the life of a Kumari:
“She will leave her palace only on ceremonial occasions. Her family will visit her rarely, and then only in a formal capacity. She will neither work nor attend school. Her playmates will be drawn from a narrow pool of Newari children from her caste, usually the children of her caretakers. She will always be dressed in red, wear her hair in a topknot and have the agni chakchuu or ‘fire eye’ painted on her forehead as a symbol of her special powers of perception…she has ceremonial duties to carry out… she is expected to behave as befits a goddess… serenity is of paramount importance… The Kumari’s walk across the Durbar Square is the last time her feet will touch the ground until such time as the goddess departs from her body. From now on, when she ventures outside of her palace, she will be carried or transported in her golden palanquin… She will never wear shoes; if her feet are covered at all, they will be covered with red stockings.
“She is visited by bureaucrats and other government officials. Petitioners customarily bring gifts and food offerings to the Kumari, who receives them in silence. Upon arrival, she offers them her feet to touch or kiss as an act of devotion. During these audiences, the Kumari is closely watched… If the Kumari remains silent and impassive throughout the audience, her devotees leave elated. This is the sign that their wishes have been granted.”
“Many people attend to the Kumari’s needs… They must attend to the Kumari’s every need and desire whilst giving her instruction in her ceremonial duties… They must also take special care that the Kumari never falls or is cut — if she sheds blood, the spirit of Taleju leaves her and the search for a new Kumari must begin…Traditionally, the Kumari received no education as she was widely considered to be omniscient.”
“Many of these girls, having been taken from their families at the age of three or four, have no knowledge whatsoever of the daily tasks involved with a normal existence. They have never had to work, attend school, go to the shops, or even walk about town. Having been exposed to only a very tight circle of playmates and waited upon hand and foot by a bevy of servants, they have never learned the arts of communication, negotiation or cooperation. Some former Kumaris feel ill at ease in large groups of people and have difficulty conversing with others or becoming involved in social life.”
All that – That is very normal?
Dang, I wish I could find that Shulamith Firestone quote about men worshipping women.