Child Diksha ►An Interesting Case in Bombay High Court

Published: 01.12.2011
Updated: 02.01.2012

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H-ASIA, November 30, 2011

An interesting case has come before the Bombay High Court involving, in effect, the extent to which public law might prevail over religious practice--in this case arising over petitions regarding the practice of child diksha in Jainism.

Essentially we have Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which gives the right to childhood and Article 27 which protects the practices of religion.

It appears that a minor girl, then aged 8, resident of Indore, MP, was brought to Mumbai by her family in 2004 and given diksha-- renunciation for life as a Jain nun.

None of the press accounts provide much detail on the intervening period, but it appears that one or more parties, possible NGOs interested in child welfare entered a petition to the court regarding the issue of the girl having been too young to understand the concept or consequences of renunciation at the age of eight.

The parents have counter-petitioned that the practice is a part of Jain religious practice "for the past 700 years". The court has now granted permission for the parents and other parties to submit textual evidence in support of their position as to the relevance of child diksha as an integral and essential element in Jaina religion.

An NGO Child Line has also filed a petition challenging the diksha; and some others have intervened as well. Child Line alleged that the girl's parents forced her into taking diksha as the family was financially unstable, and the Child Line petition sought the booking of the parents under the Juvenile Act "since the child was suffering a social death."

The matter could be set aside on the issue of whether the court and the Maharashtra Child Welfare Committee have jurisdiction since the parents are residents of Madhya Pradesh.

For the moment, the matter lies over until next month when the court (a division bench--which consists only of two justices, will look through the religious materials presented by the petitioning parents and their allies.

The right to childhood is not a concept I had encountered before; it certainly does raise interesting issues on many social and economic fronts. The adoption of a shishya swami in the guruparamparas with which I am familiar, required diksha prior to puberty--a tradition which has not been uniformly observed. But I have not read anything in recent memory on the Jaina practices.

Insights are welcomed. Since I am departing Mumbai for Seattle tonight, I won't be following the matter closely, but if any further news reaches me, I'll pass it along.


Frank F. Conlon <conlon[at]u.washington.edu>
Professor Emeritus of History, South Asian
Studies & Comparative Religion
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195-3560 USA
Co-editor, H-ASIA
Managing Director, Bibliography of Asian Studies Online
Sources
h-net.msu.edu
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  1. Bombay
  2. Diksha
  3. Indore
  4. JAINA
  5. Jaina
  6. Jainism
  7. Madhya Pradesh
  8. Maharashtra
  9. Mumbai
  10. Pradesh
  11. Swami
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