The portrait of a young girl as a Sadhvi

A 9-year-old’s fate: Jain group’s challenging of Child Welfare Committee moves into court.

It’s child rights versus religion. The prickly issue involving a nine-year-old Jain bal sadhvi moves into Bombay High Court on Monday.

The story till now: On March 11, Priyal, the daughter of an Indore couple, was anointed at a ceremony at Malad heavily attended by Jains.

Non-governmental organisation Balprafulta, following a call on its helpline, took her case to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) that hears matters of ‘children in need of care and protection’.

The Shvetambara Murtipujak Mahamandal resisted the intervention saying Priyal does not fall in this category, and disallowed a CWC team from meeting her in Pune in May. A plea, in her parents’ name, was subsequently filed in court.

Newsline met the child at the heart of the raging debate in her dharamshala in Pune.

“What do you feel when your parents visit you?”

Swathed in white from head to toe, an irregular fringe of hair barely visible at the top of her forehead, the nine year-old’s large, furtive eyes seek those of the adult monks seated around her on the bare floor in the large room.

Preetvarsha Sriji—Priyal before she was anointed—holds a mopatti (the square white cloth to protect against ingestion of tiny insects) at her mouth.

Her guru, Nirmal Sriji repeats, “How do you feel when your parents come here?” She prompts her: “Do you want to go back home?”

“Oh no,” the girl exclaims in a sing-song voice, “I don’t want to go back.”

Two years ago, in Indore, Priyal’s mother took her to a sermon by Nirmal Sriji who spoke of “the need to abandon the life of sin and violence”.

The words, says Priyal, made her want to become a sadhvi.

After eight intermittent months of training, she took diksha (initiation).

Today, she counsels every visitor, including her parents: “You should also take up the life of a shraman (ascetic).”

“This child is extraordinary in her sense of purpose and focus, absolutely no attachment towards material things,” says Nirmal Sriji, who predicts a bright ascetic future for the new initiate.