Shelani de Silva reports on another star-crossed child.
Eight-year-old Priyadarshini leads a very different life from other girls of her age. She cannot run or jump, she doesn't play house or dress up dolls, but spends her days sprawled on the ground, dragging herself around, making animal like noises to get her parents' attention.
Astrology has played an important role in Priyardarshini's dismal childhood. The fourth in a family of four, she had no defect when she was born, but at four months contracted the flu and despite receiving medical attention did not get better. Finally she was brought to Colombo where after several tests she was again sent home. Through ignorance and poverty, her parents with time gave up on medical advice and sought astrological help. They were assured that the child was not suffering from any unusual sickness, rather going through a bad period. This gave much hope for the family, who conducted poojas and other Shanthi Karma's for the child. Though there was no immediate improvement the parents were advised that the child was normal but it would take her eight years to lead a normal life. Until that time, the astrologer said, she would not have the use of her feet. The parents were also told not to fret over their child's condition as she would one day be able to lead a normal life.
Astrology has always had the power to influence our lives. Many Sri Lankans go to extremes to abide by astrologers' predictions, giving little or no thought to the price one has to pay. For many the "Apala Kalaya" [bad period] brings great fear and they would go to any lengths to overcome this misfortune. In the case of births, parents are often guided by the horoscope of the child. Even if the child is suffering from a sickness, some through ignorance will turn to astrological advice, as in the case of Priyadarshini..
In the past year The Sunday Times has highlighted three cases where the parents have for reasons of astrology taken actions that have caused immense suffering and neglect to their children. Some have been advised to separate the child from the parents, and consequently the child has been confined to a room with no contact with the outside world. Even on being removed from this situation, it takes several years for the child to overcome this trauma. Two of the children The Sunday Times highlighted were fortunate to get shelter in an orphanage, where they receive the love and attention, they were denied earlier. But Priyadharshini's case is different.
Her family home is a two roomed mud hut in Pohorabawe in Eheliyagoda. When The Sunday Times visited her last week, the child who needs constant attention especially from her mother was screeching. But the moment her mother approached, the child became quiet.
Priyadharshini's mother Dingiri Manike explained that this was her normal practice and that taking care of her was very tiring. "I never leave the home, even to go to the garden has become impossible. She never stays in one place, she goes around the house pushing her way with the help of her legs. At times she knocks her head on the wall by trying to move about. Then it takes another few hours to console her," she said.
Now that Priyadarshini is eight years old and has passed the "Apala Kalaya" her parents are having second thoughts on the predictions but seem resigned to their child's plight.
Dingiri Manike admits that astrology may not have been the answer to her child's condition, but added that the family was disgusted at the manner in which the medical staff attended to their daughter, when she was a baby.
"They neglected my child. At one time we thought she would die. Maybe it was because we are poor but we all decided to do away with medicine and turn to astrology. Even when she was born her horoscope predicted that she would not be able to get up until she was eight. So once the child got sick we knew the prediction was true," she said.
Priyadarshini speaks only a few words, making one wonder if her mental growth too has been affected. Physically she has no strength to stand on her feet and whenever her mother tries to lift her she cries out in pain. But she has a good appetite, though continually plagued by a phlegm problem. At night she sleeps only for a few hours, according to her mother. "She can also get very angry and boisterous, but at the same time when she is in a good mood she can be a darling," said Dingiri Manike.
When The Sunday Times wanted a photograph, Priyadarshini sensed that her mother was talking about her and kept smiling, trying to express herself in her own way.
While there is no medical evidence that Priyadarshini's life could have been different had she been given proper and timely medical assistance, astrological belief has definitely kept her parents from seeking such help. The Sunday Times spoke to a few astrologers to ascertain their views on such predictions.
Well-known astrologer Ananda Seneviratne explained that planetary afflictions could be denoted at birth. "Given the planetary afflictions, one has to act on the indications. "At times the child's Apala Kalaya might affect the mother or father or both parents. Then they are advised to separate from the child. This generally means that the child will be sent to the aunt, uncle or grandmother. There are times when the parents are asked to offer the child to the temple. This kind of separation is done to lessen the bad period," he said.
Mr. Seneviratne further added that one has to study the planetary afflictions to ascertain the area which leads to the problem. For example an astrologer has to see whether the problem lies in the kidney, head or heart. "Once this is done, you follow the Dasa system and the transition of planets. The Dasa system will confirm whether the sickness will last a lifetime. In other words the period will be denoted. Once this is shown which is called planetary affliction, the person will be advised on remedial measures, he said.
However he added that this depends largely on three aspects, namely time, country [environment] and personal factors. These aspects are included with indication and remedial measures.
"It all depends on how it is done. Maybe with ignorance and poverty, things could take a different turn," explained Mr. Seneviratne.
Another astrologer explained that one does not have to take such drastic measures such as confining the child. "There are ways to overcome the bad period. Proper guidance and directions should be given. Very often when children are born under the influence of Sun (which is the strongest planetary affliction) the parents are advised to separate from the child. I myself was separated from my parents for nearly ten years, but never was I kept confined. I was able to lead a normal life, It all depends on how the parents act," he said.
Mr. Karunathileke, another astrologer said that if a child was born deformed or needed medical treatment, such help should be obtained. "But other remedies such as Shanthi Karma and poojas should be done in the proper way," he said.
Many other astrologers we spoke to expressed similar views, but the question is where does one draws the line? Does anyone, be it the mother, father or guardian have the right to put an individual through such trauma and anguish for the sake of "Apala Kalaya?"
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