Nepal to send its goddesses to school now (Lead)

August 19th, 2008 - 3:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Aug 19 (IANS) The winds of change that transformed the sleepy Himalayan kingdom of Nepal into a secular republic and turned its god-king into a tax-paying, law-abiding commoner, have now overtaken the nation’s living goddesses, who have been ordered to go to school.For hundreds of years, Nepal has been worshipping its kumaris - pre-puberty girls as young as four years old - who are regarded as reincarnations of a Hindu goddess of power and are the only living beings before whom Nepal’s kings, also regarded as divine, bowed down.

Eleven kumaris reign in different cities of Nepal, each having her own palace and retinue.

Selected on the basis of several criteria from among Buddhist families, which includes auspicious horoscopes that had to be compatible with the king’s and absence of any physical blemishes, the tots were taken out of the family home to be reared up as goddesses in the palaces.

Before the advent of democracy in the 90s, the kumaris were not allowed to step out of their palaces and not allowed to tread the ground, either having to walk on a red carpet or be borne in a chariot.

Three years ago, a young woman from the same Buddhist Shakya community, lawyer Pun Devi Maharjan, questioned the isolation and other deprivations enforced on the young girls in the name of godheads and filed a petition in Nepal’s Supreme Court.

Maharjan told the court that the girls’ rights had been violated grossly. “The kumaris should be able to go to school,” the feisty lawyer told IANS. “They should be allowed to live in a family environment. They should be allowed to enjoy all other rights that other children enjoy.”

Maharjan also points out the case of an ex-kumari, Sajani Shakya, who was sacked by her priests for having travelled to the US to attend the premier of a documentary that featured her.

Her official custodians objected to the trip on the ground that she must have eaten “unholy” things abroad and lost her purity.

“If a kumari wants to travel, she should be allowed to do so,” Maharjan says.

Finally, in answer to her petition, the Supreme Court Monday ruled that the kumaris should be granted all rights enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Judges Balram K.C. and Top Bahadur Magar have ordered that kumaris should be allowed to go to school and have access to health-related rights.

“Kumaris should not be treated as bonded labourers,” the verdict said. “There should be no restriction on free movement.”

The judges have also ordered the government to form a five-member committee to study the condition of the kumaris and submit its report within a year.

“It’s a positive step,” a quietly triumphant Maharjan said, hailing the verdict. “But more needs to be done.

“The government has also got to look after the welfare of the former kumaris.”

Though the kumaris who had to relinquish their posts recently have been getting the benefits of education, others suffer from the lack of it as well as isolation and an inability to return to an ordinary life after a period of being treated as divinities.

A former kumari of Patan town, for instance, lives a life of imprisonment, held captive by her own splendid past.

Her parents do not allow her to do any work, regarding her as a goddess and a media report said she spends the whole day sitting in front of a dressing table experimenting with cosmetics.

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