The Intersection Between Culture And Modernism
Cultural practices abound everywhere in the world, most of them ancient. While some are affable, others are bizarre and inimical. Have you heard about the spine-chilling annual ritual of baby tossing in India? How about the similar variant of this practice that takes place in Africa, reportedly by Kenyan churches? News reports have termed this variant ‘baby throwing’. Another form of catholic ritual performed in Spain involves adult men leaping over babies, believed to rinse the infants off evil! Today’s article is an exploration into a couple of these cultural practices. Read on to find out more.
In India, the baby tossing ritual picked pace in the early 15th century. Hindus and Muslims in the rural region of two states, Maharashtra and Karnataka, preach this ritual. In the absence of modern medicine and healthcare back then, this ritual was born out of the belief that it would reduce the number of children dying out of illness.
The Indian legend goes thus:
A saint advised parents of dying babies to build a shrine. Then, to prove their faith in the gods, they were asked to toss the babies from the roof. The people obeyed the saint. They made shrines and tossed the babies from the roof. Then, a mysterious white hammock magically appeared seconds before the babies hit the ground, rocking the babies mid-air.
The ritual started out as a way of showing devotion and hope of having a healthy child. Once good health was witnessed, parents had to toss the baby in the air 30-50 feet off the roof of the shrine as a payback to the gods. The believers offered babies as young as 2 months to the gods as a form of gratitude for giving them a young healthy infant. Soon by word of mouth, the ritual began to spread, subsequently attracting more practitioners. They all did so in hopes of having healthy children that would live longer disease-free lives.
A similar ritual exists in some parts of Africa. Firstly, the newborn is kept indoors for the first 33 days of life. Introduction of the newborn to the world is carried out by an unusual and vigorous baby throwing ritual, vertically up in the air and back to the arms of the pastor. The ritual commences with a frenzy of dancing on the roads by the community members offering prayers for the child’s health. According to reports, the rituals’ importance is to cast out fear and raise a strong man in the instance of the first-born male child. For the ritual to be a success, the parents are advised to be celibate for the first few weeks following it.
“What the mind doesn’t understand, it worships or fears.”
― Alice Walker
Times are changing and currently, we live in a fast-paced global world. Questioning these cultural beliefs, weighing the related pros and cons, taming harmful cultures, these discussions are rising. However, is it that easy to eradicate one’s beliefs by putting a law in place? Does it really bring a change? The intersection of laws and policies, modernism and strong cultural beliefs comes with its own baggage. In attempts to end harmful cultural practices, child activists, healthcare providers, children rights & protection organizations as well as similar groups have long tried to draw attention to these cruel and questionable rituals. Just as unreasonable and illogical as it sounds, it also causes great distress to the baby. Although there have been no reported deaths, it is clearly evident why such practices must stop. With advancements in health care, education, reforms, awareness and health promotion, the present situation is much different from 700 years ago. Advances in healthcare show a downward trend in infant deaths and under-five mortality rates. Also, there is a sharply rising trend in the life expectancy of babies born worldwide.
Social media helps spread information flexibly thus, revealed the questionable footages and reels surfacing over the internet. The babies are often distressed, traumatized and crying due to the sudden jerking and falling in the viral media. Scientific medical evidence suggests that sudden violent movements for infants can lead to shaken baby syndrome, brain injury and damage, further compromising growth, developmental disabilities and sometimes leading to death. The world is a hub of various rituals and clashes between cultural practices and modernism attracts criticism. Oftentimes, they lead to lawsuits and legal bans when the visible risks outweigh following age-old rituals portraying one’s faith.
India’s National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and the State authorities have tried to bring a stop to the baby tossing practice, passing a law targeting a total ban 10 years ago. However, harassed local officials complain that to bring the law into effect, educating the villagers, community and the performing priests involved is paramount. People all over the world have become critical of human rights, child protection and activism. Despite this, the real-world evidence suggests religious faith is often greater in strength. Thus, controlling and condemning such horrific acts can be challenging. And so, the laws remain partially abstract in most circumstances globally.
“I certainly believe in limited government but protecting children against injury abuse is certainly inside my sphere of things that the government should do.” –Mitch Daniels
Harsha Kumari is a former attending volunteer physician for an NGO Handsonglobal working for vulnerable groups in remote Himalayan villages and refugee camps in Moria. A licensed medical doctor, she is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public health research and health economics at Umeå University, Sweden. Harsha is currently a volunteer for SOGH as well. She believes health is a sustainable and quality combination of mental, physical, spiritual, social and economic wellbeing. Harsha is of the opinion that education, awareness, cautious utility of resources, addressing knowledge gaps and superstition are important to attain global equity of health. She holds a deep interest in addressing gaps in health systems and clinical research for better patient outcomes. Harsha enjoys trekking outdoors, traveling, playing with her dogs and writing on her blog hkwellnessinn.
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