a nun who was a young Indian diamond heiress

Devanshi was carried in a procession through the Surat streets while wearing pricey jewelry and clothing

Devanshi Sanghvi, then age 8, might have gone on to run a multi-million dollar diamond company.

But the daughter of a wealthy Indian diamond merchant is now leading a penury life, wearing coarse white saris, going door to door barefoot, and asking for alms.

Because Devanshi, the older of Dhanesh and Ami Sanghvi's two daughters, gave up the world and became a nun last week.

One of the oldest religions in the world, Jainism was founded in India more than 2,500 years ago, and is practiced by 40.5 million Jains, including the Sanghvis.

Although cases involving children as young as Devanshi are rare, religious experts claim that the number of Jains giving up the material world has been rising quickly over time.

Tens of thousands of people turned out for Devanshi's "diksha" ceremony, in which he took vows of renunciation in front of senior Jain monks, on Wednesday in Surat, Gujarat, in the western state of that name.

She arrived at the venue in the Vesu district of the city with her parents in tow, decked out in fine silks and bejeweled. She had a diamond-studded crown on her head.

She remained with the other nuns after the ceremony while wearing a white sari over her shaved head. She is pictured holding a broom, which she would now use to sweep insects off of her path to prevent tripping over them.

Devanshi with her parents Dhanesh and Ami Sanghvi at the ceremony
At the ceremony, Devanshi was accompanied by her parents, diamond merchants Dhanesh and Ami Sanghvi.

Devanshi has been residing in an Upashraya since that time, a monastery where Jain nuns and monks are housed.

"She can no longer stay at home, her parents are no longer her parents, she is a Sadhvi [a nun] now," says Kirti Shah, a diamond merchant in Surat who is a friend of the family and a local Bharatiya Janata Party politician.

"The life of a Jain nun is extremely austere. She will no longer be able to use any form of transportation, she will have to walk everywhere, she will sleep on the floor on a white sheet, and she won't be able to eat after sunset, he continued.

The Sanghvis are the only Jain sect—the other three only admit adults—that allows young people to become monks.

The girl was "inclined towards spiritual life since she was a toddler," according to family friends who have been quoted in Indian media. Devanshi's parents are known to be "extremely religious.".

According to the Times of India, Devanshi has never watched television, seen a movie, or visited a mall or restaurant.

Devanshi has been praying three times daily since he was a young child, and at the age of two, he even observed a fast, the newspaper continued.

The family had planned a sizable celebratory procession in Surat the day before her renunciation ceremony.

Thousands of people witnessed the spectacle as camels, horses, ox carts, drummers, and men wearing turbans and carrying canopies walked the streets while being entertained by dancers and stilt performers.

While they were being showered with rose petals by the public, Devanshi and her family were riding in an elephant-drawn chariot.

Devanshi with her parents in a huge procession a day before the renunciation ceremony in Surat
Devanshi and her family were riding in an elephant-drawn chariot as crowds showered them with rose petals.

Both Mumbai and Antwerp, a city in Belgium where the Sanghvis have businesses, organized processions as well.

Despite the Jain community's support for the practice, Devanshi's renunciation has sparked controversy. Many have questioned why the family didn't wait until Devanshi was an adult before making such significant decisions on her behalf.

Mr. Shah insisted that "no religion should allow children to become monks," despite being invited to the diksha ceremony but declining due to his discomfort with the idea of a child giving up the world.

He questioned, "She's a kid, what does she understand about all this? "Children can't even choose their college stream until they are 16 years old. How can they decide on something that will affect them for the rest of their lives?".

Prof. Nilima Mehta, a child protection consultant in Mumbai, says the "difficulty and deprivation the child will go through is immense" when a child renounces the world and the community rejoices. To her, this may seem like a big celebration.

She claims that life as a Jain nun is extremely difficult.

Other members of the community have also voiced their concern over a young child being taken away from her family.

Since the news has spread, a lot of people have criticized the Sanghvis family on social media, claiming that they have been violating the rights of their child.

According to Mr. Shah, the government must intervene to put an end to this practice of young people renunciating the outside world.

However, it is not very likely to occur. I contacted the NCPCR's (National Commission for Protection of Child Rights) office to inquire about the government's plans in regards to Devanshi's case.

Because the matter is "sensitive," according to his office, he does not wish to comment.

Devanshi after the ceremony
Devanshi goes door to door asking for alms while wearing coarse white saris and going barefoot.

Devanshi's rights, however, allegedly have been violated, according to activists.

Prof. Mehta responds to those who claim the child is becoming an ascetic "of her own free will" by stating that "a child's consent is not consent in law.".

"According to the law, decision-making independence begins at the age of 18. In the interim, an adult, such as her parents, makes decisions on her behalf and must decide whether doing so is in her best interests.

And if that choice prevents the child from receiving an education or having fun, it is against her rights. ".

You cannot, however, apply legal principles in the spiritual world, claims Dr. Bipin Doshi, a professor of Jain philosophy at Mumbai University.

"While some argue that children are not mature enough to make such choices, there are some young people with superior intellectual capacity who can accomplish much more than adults. What is wrong if some kids who are spiritually inclined grow up to be monks?, he wonders.

Devanshi isn't being harmed in any way, claims Dr. Doshi.

I disagree that she will be denied of love or education because she will receive love from her guru and learn honesty and non-attachment. "She may be deprived of the traditional entertainment, but is that really necessary for everyone. Is that not an improvement?

Additionally, according to Dr. Doshi, Devanshi can always leave the world if she later changes her mind and believes that "she took a wrong decision under the mesmerizing effects of her guru.".

Devanshi
According to reports, Devanshi has been praying three times per day and even fasting since he was two years old.

Prof. Mehta queries, "Why not let her decide when she's an adult?".

She says that because young minds are impressionable, the woman might decide in a few years that this is not the kind of life she wants and that this has happened to other women in the past who later had a change of heart.

A young Jain nun who had fled her center because she was so traumatized, according to Prof. Mehta, was one of the cases she handled a few years ago.

When she turned 21 and eloped and married her boyfriend, another girl who had turned into an ascetic at the age of nine created something of a scandal.

There have also been legal petitions filed in the past, but according to Prof. Mehta, social reform is difficult because of the sensitive issues at play.

"It's not just among Jains; Hindu girls marry gods and become devadasis (though the practice was outlawed in 1947), young boys join akhadas (religious institutions), and in Buddhism, young boys are sent to live as monks in monasteries.

She asserts that "children are suffering under all religions, but challenging it is blasphemy," and that "a child is not your possession" in families and societies.

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