Incidents are the little things that happen in your life, minor irritants or blessings which don’t really hamper your day. At the end of the day you are the same; none the richer or wiser, and life...sweet mundane life, goes on.
Then there are the occurrences.
It could be anything, earth shattering perhaps, significant enough to derail the monotonous cycle of your daily existence.
But then I see occurrences like this, and it makes me question my pain and my suffering through the years and somehow I can’t help but balk at the sheer futility of it all.
“It began with the death of two children due to malaria and jaundice in September. An exorcist told the father of the children, Mahavir Baitha, that the two widows, Jeetan Devi and Dubhan Devi, were responsible for the deaths. In front of the son, the mother was tonsured, beaten, paraded and burnt.
Earthen pitchers were broken on the heads of the two widows.”
When I first glanced over this article, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It seemed almost funny in a twisted, macabre sort of way and I honestly felt like I was being ferried to the medieval ages. The excerpt above was from an article about witch hunting, and no, it wasn’t a historical report, it was about the here and now (Y.e.s, I said the here and now).
I am pretty sure that most of us have a rudimentary idea of what witch hunting is. Witch hunting, with respect to the burning times was essentially taking a person accused of practicing witchcraft to task. Of course, as any other religious hate crimes through the ages (including the present), the brunt of it was borne by the women.
Taking a woman accused of practicing witchcraft to task, essentially opened the door for a horrific variety of tortures including rape, mutilation- genital or otherwise, forced coprophagia or the eating of feces, urophagia or the drinking of urine (not necessarily human), pulling nails out, plucking teeth, inserting hooks in various parts of the body and suspending them, inserting metal rods into their orifices and finally death by burning or otherwise, if the ghastly tortures haven’t killed them already.*
While witch hunting has become a thing of the past in the western world, certain states in India still revel in this appalling practice. The folks in the rural areas of Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh (specifically the Telengana district), Tripura, Assam, Orissa and Bihar still hold on to a ludicrous fear of alleged witches or ‘Dains’. What irks me more is the vice like hold the Ojhas or witch doctors have over the villagers psyche. Their word is pretty much the law and whatever they say is usually carried out without question.
But the actual problem is far more deep seated than oh-look-‘witch’-lets-mutilate-her-and-kill-her-because-we-have-nothing-better-
to-do-and-we-are-ignorant-people. The basic modus operandi is this: most of the time if not all the time, the Ojha’s palms are greased for branding a woman a witch. The reasons could often be disputes over land, jealous relatives, revenge for refusing a man’s advances or just a shoddy excuse to inflict violence on the woman (sexual, mostly). But a woman can also be used as a scapegoat for problems plaguing the village like sickness, famine, a failed harvest, a corrupt, sexist panchayat (surprise, surprise) and on and on. And god forbid if a woman dabbles in politics or actually tries to stand up for her rights. She might as well prepare a noose and stick a board on her forehead proclaiming herself a witch. The blind faith in the Ojhas and the foolhardy belief in the existence of ‘moste evile witch craft’ have made these villagers indulge in inflicting appalling levels of abuse on women seamlessly and I am positive that it has made them immune to base emotions. Various cases of men killing their own wives or mothers or get this, their pre-teen and/or teenage daughters in the name of banishing sorcery are quite common.
These instances lead me to wonder if our society jumps at any given half baked opportunity to oppress women by whichever means possible. Strike that, I am almost convinced that that is the case. Economic disparities and social prejudices play such a vital part in perpetuating this mindless cycle of gory violence, sodomy and murder. It almost seems as if there are different factors working together to ensure that these poverty stricken (dalit, in most cases), lower caste women are kept at the pits of the society including the apathetic government officials laboring hand in glove with the village heads and the general unwillingness of the village community to report such cases. To dismiss these occurrences as villagers ‘coping’ with superstition is not only horrifically callous, it’s just plain cruel.
And here are some numbers for the cynic in you:
In the last 15 years, almost 2800 women were slaughtered in the name of witch craft.
700 of those 2800 women were murdered between 2004 and 2005.
Let’s face it. Just because we don’t perceive or see or feel certain things in our lives, that doesn’t mean that they don’t happen or exist.
And on a parting note, I insist on/ compel/ urge/ insert suitable synonym here you to read this and this and this.
* all the grotesque tortures I have listed are carried out even today, often on a far worse scale than what I have described.