Nine-year-old Padmapurani appears a bit unsettled by the attention as television cameras zoom in on her.
She’s holding a banner with a message that can’t be missed at Pampa where protests against the entry of women aged between 10 and 50 years to the temple have marked the Sabarimala pilgrimage over the past five days.
The banner reads – “I am 9 years old. This is my third visit to Sabarimala. I will come again only after 41 years (2058)”.
Her father Vijayakumar, an IT professional, says it’s the family’s statement regarding implementation of the Supreme Court judgement which allowed women of all ages entry to the temple. “She understands the issue and it’s also her take on the issue,” he says.
Padmapurani looks around before answering questions but she doesn’t wait for prompts. “I feel that customs at the temple should not be changed,” she says.
Padmapurani’s banner finds a context in voices that have emerged against using children in protests that are staged to further the interests of adults.
On Saturday, the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights called for an end to the participation of children in adults’ protests. At least two women who were denied entry to Sabarimala during the past four days said protests that forced them to retreat had the presence of children.
"Children are influenced by what they hear and see around them. When she’s old enough to decide on her own, it’s her call, of course,” says Rajarajan, her paternal uncle.
When informed about the child rights panel’s move, he says — “But where’s the protest here? This is only a message — we just want the traditions of this temple to remain as they are."