The Madhya Pradesh government last year told every department that before starting any programme, they should perform Kanya Pujan, a ritual that involves honouring girls with worship in the belief that it is auspicious. Now, before by-elections in the state, the ruling BJP led by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has started Kanya Pujan in every home at bypoll constituencies.
The opposition Congress’s objection to the ritual, in which some girls were made to wear turbans with the colours of the BJP’s election symbol during Mr Chouhan’s campaign at Raigaon Scheduled Castes constituency, has kicked up a political row in the state.
“We don’t have any objection to Kanya Pujan, but object to politicisation of the ritual. By making the girls wear turbans resembling colours of the BJP symbol, the Chief Minister has politicised the Kanya Pujan. Where is the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, which had written to the administration for acting against Congress leader Ajay Singh over remarks about children consuming drugs?” Congress spokesperson Narendra Saluja said.
In 2017, the child protection body NCPCR issued guidelines banning involvement of children in election campaigns or related activities. The commission had recently written to the Satna district collector to act against Congress leader Ajay Singh over his remarks about children consuming drugs, while defending Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan in the drugs-on-cruise case.
The Chief Minister, however, hit back at the Congress for what he claimed was making a big issue out of nothing. “Congress leaders are opposing Kanya Pujan by me. Then what shall I do, perform Congress Pujan? Kanya Pujan is our longstanding proud tradition. For me, my sisters are Goddess Durga, Goddess Lakshmi and Goddess Saraswati and all daughters symbolise Devis (goddesses),” Mr Singh said.
“I’ll continue to perform Kanya Pujan as I and BJP are committed to the interests of girls and women,” the Chief Minister added.
State BJP chief VD Sharma said the party is “not bothered with what the Congress feels about honouring and worshipping girls”.
“Kanya Pujan is our proud tradition, but the Congress is against it. We will perform Kanya Pujan, not once but multiple times. We aren’t bothered with what the Congress feels about it… It would have been nice to see Digvijay Singh or Kamal Nath ji doing Kanya Pujan, but they are against Indian culture,” the BJP leader said.
Political analysts say the ruling party’s bypoll campaign with the Kanya Pujan rituals, however, may not reflect the reality on the ground when it comes to women’s safety in the state. Madhya Pradesh was mentioned as one of the most unsafe states for children.
The National Crime Records Bureau or NCRB data shows that last year, 17,008 crimes were committed against children in the state. The crime against children rate in the state is 59.1 per cent. These are the reported cases known to the NCRB. Children safety workers say many cases go unreported. Madhya Pradesh comes at No. 5 in crime against women in the country. Last year, 2,339 cases of rape were filed in the state.