- Gita Pandey
- BBC News-Delhi
1 hour ago
Eight-year-old Devanshi Sanghvi could have taken over the management of a multi-million dollar diamond business when she grew up.
But today, the daughter of a wealthy Indian diamond merchant, she lives an austere life, covering herself in a coarse white sari, walking barefoot, knocking on doors, and begging for alms.
This child, the eldest daughter of diamond dealer Danish Sanghvi and his wife Amy, announced her retirement from the world and its joys, and became a nun.
The wealthy Sanghvi family profess the Jain religion, or the Jain religion, which has a following of about 4.5 million people, and is one of the oldest religions in the world, and it originated in India more than 2,500 years ago.
Religious scholars say that the number of followers of this religion, who declare their renunciation of the material world, is increasing rapidly over the years, although cases involving children such as Devanshi are uncommon.
The Devanshi monastic vow ceremony was held on January 18 in the city of Surat, in the state of Gujarat, in western India, and the girl took the “Diksha” covenant, that is, a pledge to abandon material life, in the presence of senior Jain monks and tens of thousands of followers of the religion.
When Devanshi arrived at the ceremony in the Visu district of the city with her parents, she was dressed in fine jewelry, a gown of fine silk, and a diamond crown on her head.
But after the ceremony was over, she stood alongside other nuns, wearing a coarse white sari that also covered her shaved head. The girl appears in pictures holding a broom, which she will now use to keep insects out of her way, in order to avoid stepping on it by mistake. Followers of this religion, especially monks, are keen not to cause harm to any living creature, including insects.
From that day on, Devanshi lived in Upshareya, a word meaning monastery, where Jain monks and nuns live.
“Devanshi can no longer live in her family home, her children are no longer her parents, she is now a Sadhvi[nun],” says Kirti Shah, a diamond dealer from Surat, a friend of the Sanghvi family, who is also a local BJP politician.
“Life for a Jain nun is really tough. She will now have to walk to a place she wants to go, she can never use any mode of transportation, she will sleep on a white sheet on the floor and she can’t eat any food after sunset,” Shah adds.
The Sanghvi family belongs to the only Jain caste that accepts child monks, while the other three castes only accept adult monks.
Divanshi’s parents are known for their “extreme religiosity”, and Indian media quoted family friends as saying that the child “showed an inclination to spiritual life from an early age.”
“Devanshi never watched TV or movies, never went to malls or restaurants,” the Times of India reported.
The newspaper added that “Devanshi, from a young age, prayed three times a day, and even fasted since she was two years old.”
The family held a huge festive procession in the city of Surat the day before the ceremony of declaring their daughter monastic.
Thousands flocked to watch the procession, which included camels, horses and ox-carts, and featured drummers, turbaned men carrying umbrellas, dancers and performers on long wooden legs.
Devanshi was sitting with her family in a chariot drawn by an elephant, while the people gathered greeted them and threw rose petals at them.
On this occasion, festive processions were also organized in Mumbai, and in the Belgian city of Antwerp, which is famous for its diamond trade, and the Sanghvi family has businesses in it.--
Although there is support within the Jain community for this practice, Devanshi’s vow of monasticism has sparked debate and controversy, with many wondering why the girl’s family did not wait for her to come of age before making such important choices on her behalf.-
Family friend Kirti Shah was one of those who had reservations about this step, and although he was invited to the (Diksha) party, he preferred not to participate, because he did not feel comfortable with the idea of abandoning the material world at the age of childhood, and in his opinion, “any religion should not allow children to become monks.
“She’s a child. What do you understand about all this?” he added. “Children can’t even decide where they will go to college until they are 16 years old,” he says. “How can they make a decision about something that will affect their whole life?”
When a child retires from material life and is celebrated by society, it can at first seem like a big party for them, but Professor Neelima Mehta, a Child Protection Consultant in Mumbai, says that “the hardships and deprivations that this child will go through will be enormous,” adding, “Life as a nun Jane is very difficult.”
Many others in the Jain community also expressed their unease with the separation of a child from her family at such a young age.
Many criticized Sanghvi’s family on social media when they learned of the news, accusing her of violating her child’s rights.
Shah says the government should step in and stop this practice of secluding children from the world and turning them into monks.
But government intervention seems unlikely, as when I contacted the office of Priyank Kanungu, head of the National Committee for the Protection of Child Rights, to inquire whether the government would take any step on Devanshi’s case, the response was that he did not want to comment on the case because it was a “sensitive matter”.
But activists say Devanci’s rights have been violated.
Professor Mehta says, in response to those who say that the child retired “out of her free will”, that “the children’s consent is not legal consent.”
“From a legal point of view, the age of 18 is the age at which a person makes an independent decision. Until then, the decision is made on their behalf by an adult, such as a parent, who has to consider whether it is in the best interest of the child,” she explains. .
And she adds, regarding Devanshi’s case, that “if this decision deprives the girl of education and entertainment, then it is a violation of her rights.”
But Dr. Bipin Doshi, professor of Jain philosophy at the University of Mumbai, says, “You cannot apply legal principles in the spiritual realm.”
“Some say that the child is not mature enough to make such decisions, but there are children with higher intellectual abilities, and they can at an early age accomplish what adults cannot. Likewise, there are children with spiritual inclinations, so what is wrong with them becoming monks?”
Dr. Doshi also insists that Devanshi, is not harmed in any way.
He explains, “She may be deprived of traditional entertainment, but is this really necessary for everyone? I do not agree that she will be deprived of love or education. She will receive love from her guru, and she will learn honesty and non-attachment…isn’t that better?” .
Dr. Doshi also says that if Devanshi later changes her mind and sees that she has “made a wrong decision under the influences of her guru”, she can always return to the material world.
Why isn’t she left to make up her mind after she becomes an adult, Professor Mehta wonders?
“Young minds are impressionable, and in a few years, they may think this is not the life they want,” she says, adding that there are cases where girls have changed their minds once they are adults.
Mehta says that a few years ago she dealt with the case of a young Jain nun, who ran away from her center because she was so traumatized.
Another girl who vowed an ascetic life at the age of nine caused what was considered a scandal in 2009, when, at the age of 21, she ran away and married her boyfriend.
In the past, she has submitted petitions to the court in this regard, but Mehta says that any social reform is very challenging, because of the sensitivity involved.
And she adds, “It is not limited to followers of the Jain religion, there are also Hindu girls who (marry) gods, and become devadesis (despite the prohibition of this practice in 1947), and there are also young boys who join akhadas (religious centers), and in Buddhism children are sent to live in monasteries as monks.”
“Children suffer under all religions, but any challenge (to these practices) is blasphemy,” Mehta said, adding that families and communities need to be educated, and realize that “the child does not belong to you.”