India is known for its rich cultural heritage and a plethora of traditions which are unique to the nation and its demographic. In some rural sections of the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka, the practice of tossing young babies from heights of approximately 30 feet, is quite popular.
In fact, the practice has been in effect for 700 years. The practice originated in a time when infant mortality rates were quite high and people were encouraged to believe in such traditions as a form of protection for their babies.
According to the stories surrounding the ritual, saints during older times recommended that people with ailing babies build shrines from which babies could be dropped as a sign of their trust in God and his will. The legend of the ritual says that when this practice began, babies who were thrown were saved miraculously by a sheet like cradle that appeared mid-air.
Based on this story, the tradition continues, only now, the babies are caught in a sheet by people upon being thrown. Many make a promise to toss the baby in the hope that God will bless them with a healthy child.
Many who participate in the ritual have stated time and again that it is not dangerous and brings the child good luck and a long life.
Having said that, in 2009, a video of the ritual being performed at the Baba Umer Dargah in Maharashtra’s Solapur forced the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights to intervene.
Upon investigating the practice, the commission decided to put a stop to the ritual of tossing babies.
“We do not support this superstitious practice; it is against the interest of the children. They may be really scared, and nobody knows how it affects their psyche” said G. Mohanty, who acted as a media advisor for the commission.
The ritual is illegal in India under the nation’s children’s rights laws. Officials have also stated on record that no reports of child tossing have been received in Solapur since 2010.
Despite the efforts of Indian authorities, there have been reports of the practice continuing in certain villages like Mangasuli where Lord Khandoba is worshipped as an avatar of Lord Shiva by Hindu families who believe he is the patron deity for a happy family life.
“The practice continues throughout the year, and babies are tossed within two months of being born, come rain or shine — it’s tradition” said Javed Fardin Akhtar, who witnessed the practice in Mangasuli.
Akhtar, who is a resident of Sangli, said that the child is tossed by devotees of the shrine who have done so many times, instead of inexperienced parents. Once the child bounces of the sheet, it is quickly returned to the parents and the crowd around them cheers the successful execution of the ritual.
While many in such regions of India consider it an essential practice for the protection and prosperity of their child, most observers have called it a crime against hapless children who do not have the ability to protect themselves from such a dangerous ritual.
Regardless, the practice is unique to these regions of India and has no parallel around the world, making it an intriguing practice that must be studied in depth.