Chennai: Prayers were offered by 20 minor girls in a temple at Chennai. They pierced their cheeks with steel ‘vel’ for speedy recovery of the then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa when she was undergoing treatment in Apollo hospital in 2016.
This has come under the scanner at a special sitting of the National Human Rights Commission in Chennai on Friday.
Cyril Alexander, in a petition filed before the NHRC, submitted that the ruling AIADMK’s North Chennai unit had forced children, aged between five and ten years, to pierce 2 meter long steel rods through their cheeks. Police officials and other authorities had not taken action to stop this. Party cadres organized the weird ritual at Sri Chenni Amman temple in Tondiarpet for divine intervention in the recovery of Jayalalithaa.
While taking up the petition, the bench headed by Jyotika Kalra ordered a compensation of Rs 25,000 each to the children. The bench said, “For such gross violations of human rights of the victim children, the state is vicariously liable.” The Additional Commissioner of Police, L&O, North Chennai submitted before the commission that 20 children had ‘willingly participated’ in the ritual.
The medical records of only two children had been submitted before the commission. The bench directed police to trace all the children who took part in the ritual.
Jayalalithaa, who was admitted at the Apollo Hospitals, Chennai for fever and dehydration on September 22, 2016, died in the hospital after 75 days of treatment on December 5, 2016. During her hospitalization, party cadres and office bearers organised various forms of prayers across the state for her speedy recovery. The photographs of the children with faces pierced with metal rods and carrying photographs of Jayalalithaa went viral on social media.
Social activists condemned the incident and Cyril Alexander, a social activist from Chennai filed the petition before the NHRC.
In his reply, the Additional Commissioner of Police, L&O, North Chennai informed the Commission that a case has been registered against the party cadres involved in the ritual and the parents of the children. He also said that disciplinary action has been taken against T Veerakumar, inspector of police who had failed to prevent the incident.
The Commission took up 179 cases in the open hearing which was heard by Chairperson Justice H.L. Dattu, Members, Justice P.C. Pant, Jyotika Kalra and Dr. Dnyaneshwar M. Mulay. These cases are related largely to grievances and complaints of atrocities against persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes due to action, inaction or omission by the public authorities, bonded labourers’ issues, police inaction and harassment.
Of the total cases, the Commission recommended compensation of Rs 8 lakh in two cases. During the full commission hearing, issues pertaining to silicosis death, houses for marginalized sections of society in Villupuram district, dumping of garbage in Chennai city, release and rehabilitation of bonded labourers, relief and rehabilitation for minor girl victims of sexual exploitation, denial of facilities in textile industries and garments factories in the state, were raised.
Tension prevailed at the entrance of the hall at the Anna Centenary Library building as the secretariat staff and police personnel refused entry to anyone other than the complainants and respondents.