10/8/06

Old Witch, Old Witch; she lives in a ditch, and combs her hair with a hickory switch.

There are incidents and then there are occurrences.

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.

48 comments:

my life.... said...

yes i agree with u on the whole that such futile practices are being clinged onto by such imbeciles today...is it due to lack of education, ignorance or can t they break away from their "culture" vicious cycle... why women are always being "sacrificed"? in fact, where did they ,in fact, adopted such practices? in the long past, if the husband dies, the woman was also thrown into the burning pyre as well alive! infanticide was also common particularly females in the name of "sacrifice". most probably, i guess that their so called "witch craft culture" conditioned their mind so much that they view it as acceptable... Throwing a life into a serial episodes of tortures is acceptable?

Bollybitch said...

Hi TWIP, great post. thanks for bringing something like this into the light. AND, i totally envy you - u blog once a month and 66 comments! :-) cool... regards, BollyBitch

Ragnell said...

That's horrible! We're in the 21st century, how is this still going on?

Anonymous said...

You couldn't have seen it in the US, but sometime this year, National Geographic or Discovery India (don't remember which) aired a documentary on a "witch hunt" case. A young teenage boy attacked his aunt (who had brought him up), cut off her head, and took it to a police station. He said he did it because she was a witch and had caused the deaths of his father and brothers. The investigation revealed the deaths of the men had probably been caused by TB, which was rampant in that area (Jharkhand?) and the boy had turned on his aunt out of ignorance. During the investigation, the TV crew visited an Ojha who was to announce if an old woman was a witch. She was not present, but her terrified son was - he said he didn't believe in witches and was sure his mother wasn't one, but if the ojha said she was, he would not be able to protect her. Luckily, the ojha said she was not a witch. The son told the TV crew he was happy but worried for the future, since his mother was suspected now and later verdicts might not be favorable. It was a horrible yet fascinating documentary, you could not believe these people are living in the 21st century.

Anonymous said...

just to add to the list, its probably not just india we are talking about..there was a program in discovery channel, covering roots of africa and how witch hunts are a common practice there too and even some parts of south america!!the concept of witches..hmm..wonder where that came from, medival crusades or prior?:)..BUT i agree completely though with the governments absolute INDIFFERENCE to even try and educate these villages or better actually bring them under the judicial system!! i dont see whom to blame, but again, yep, just another opportunity to burn, rape and degrade women..YUCK!

Anonymous said...

Do you think evil doesent exist and it should not be defeated by the forces of good ?

Do you believe witchcraft doesent exist ?

What do you do with witches who cast their evil spell on others ?

Witches and demons exist as pawns in the hand of the devil.

Clara

KP said...

What crap Clara ?

Do you support that torturous Witch hunting should be done to destroy the evil in the world?

Mega!

It sounds horrible.Awareness , education and some strict laws only can help

sanjay jha said...

nameste p star
loved the blog,specially your template,wana borrow for my new blog...lol.
hey great spirit,
greetings from festive india.
happy blogging,
cheers.
jhaji.

ps-came through bollybooo...
[as i say new rocket in bollywood.lol.]

hedonistic hobo said...

http://www.tehelka.com/story_main18.asp?filename=Cr061006MY_TONGUE.asp

i don't know if you've heard of tehelka but this story was featured in this very critical and engaging newspaper called tehelka of the tehelk sca fame. this is the story od bant singh, lower caste sikh jat activist and the atrocities meted out to him for his temerity. in the same issue here was an 8 part story of a dalit whose father was consumed by the same malaise that stalks 'witches' in india. superstition and the damning word of an ojha killed this man's father who should have been taken to a hospital instead.
stories like hese fill me with such dismay which is why i've sent you the story of bant singh to ensure that all these horrific tales don't erode your spirit.

cheers!

Sriram said...

Pardon me, but people wonder when India would become "developed". I say, probably never, cuz we are still live in the middle ages. Its not the country, its the people. Fucking idiots, the lot.


(Sorry bout that little rant!)

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ my life : throwing a life into a serial episodes of torture is acceptable?

You summed it up so perfectly in that one line. Yes it is acceptable, because after all women are valued only by their fuckability and their baby spouting skills and nothing else.

@ Bollybitch: Hullo! And thanks, that is pretty much the theme for my blog, semi-radical to radical feminism and occasional glimpses into my past or my life as it is now. And I'm glad you like. :)

@ Ragnell: I missed you! Sniff!

Apparently we are in the 21st century, but can you truly believe that we have progressed enough? It depresses me to even think this way, but I cant help it.

@ Anon: the documentary you had just described, in a nutshell is exactly what Ive tried to bring across in this post. Blatant ignorance, horrific callousness and total and complete apathy and lack of any human feeling...all because a demented quack's aka ojha's order should be carried out. It really really pisses me off. And I must watch that documentary!

@ yogi: This seems to be a problem in developing countries and third world countries alike. As technological advances sweep the nations, it becaomes increasingly hard for a society to cope and they retreat into a shell of ignorance, delibrately making themselves oblivious to change or liberation in thought and action.

@ Clara: Ok please, I have to thank you for bringing light to this horrible day Ive been having. Your comment was so fantastic in its ridiculousness, I couldnt help but guffaw.
First of all you have confused and/or missed the point of this post. I will not denounce or accept the existence of witch-craft. But my post was NOT about the occult sciences or evil vs good and so on and so forth.
My post was specifically about innocent women being slaughtered in the name of 'witch craft' where in fact they were killed for various other motives.
Please read this post properly before you make more inane statements.

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ kp: Heh, clara seems to have missed the point by a mile, but no matter.

And thanks, I know. Although I did read somewhere that in Jharkhand it is illegal to torment women in the name of witch craft. But implementing that law strictly is well, another matter entirely.

@ Sanjay Jha: thanks!

@ hedonistic hobo: What a lovely story. Moving, sad, horrific and yet strangely uplifting. Thanks a ton.

And of course I've heard of Tehelka! Come on now, I'm not living under a rock ya' know. Hee.

@ Sriram: I know exactly what you mean, and please dont be sorry. Those dipshits are far far worse than a bunch of fucking idiots.

Rohini said...

I was shocked to realsie that the belief in sorcery is not just something that exists in the vollages. I know a educated and successful doctor couple - their son was diagnosed with schizoprenia. And there response was to take him to an ojha to drive away the evil spirits supposedly hauning their son's body!

Madame Mahima said...

sigh. this crazy shit isnt gonna go away anytime soon..i know ud think by THIS day and age it would.
shiit...700 women in 2004 and 2005?
its sad man

rajan said...

You seem to blame men for everythin that happens n this earth. Mebbe u shud take a break nd c a doc. If not fer ur sanity pls do it fer mine.

rajan said...

dnt take me wrongly. I think somethin happened to u when you r a child. is it abuse?

Anonymous said...

babe if you can find rajan please gouge his balls off and stick them on to his nose ala a clown. ok gouge one off, pint it red and then stick it on to his nose. but hurt him.

then again he did request you to not take him wrongly. for fucksake.....it's like when guys blame a bad mood on periods. it's the worst thing to say especially if she's having her period haha.

rajan i don't think she blames or can blame men any more than one can blame the system we're in entrenched in and as actors withtin this system we're each to blame. after all for every guy who's ever teased me, there's been a woman to insinuate the provocative dressing myth as justification for such behaviour. patriarchy is a condition, a state of the mind and not just society's. frankly i can relate to her angst, it's what fuelled me through adolescence, well through the tremulous beginnings of adulthood as well.

and while women may have it bad in india, they get the short end of the stick everywhere. for instance the age old characterization of promiscuous women as whores and of promiscuous men as studs which is as manifest in europe as it is in any other place of the world.

btw i haven't read the sandman in aeons! has gaiman done any new work lately? and what happened to the movie.....or did it come and go while i was living under a rock?

so are you in delhi or what coz you have all these links to jagori and whatnot?

La vida Loca said...

Oppressing women has always been a full time occupaton in most societies...

Anonymous said...

It's great to live in such enlightened times.

Anonymous said...

Reading that got my blood boiling. I knew random acts of stupidity were common, but 700 in a YEAR??

What is TRULY disgusting is that most of us are guilty of this sort of thinking to varying, often milder degrees, without ever being conscious of the fact. While most of our countrymen do not actively indulge in witch hunting, they BELIEVE in black magic and sorcery. I don't know if you know about the whole stepping on a piece of bewitched lime thing. People who wish you ill bewitch a piece of lime, and leave it somewhere where you can step over it. Now if you DO step over it, you're doomed. It's safe to say that the overwhelming majority of people who spot this 'evil' piece of lime and know of its significance will avoid it like the plague. We're a gullible lot.

People I've studied with would turn in important documents on 'auspicious' days. They claimed they didn't REALLY believe in the stuff, but they didn't want to take any chances. Their argument was, it may not do us any good, but it's not going to hurt us.

It's the same with marriage and horoscopes. Let's be honest, MOST of us believe that shit. Or we'd rather just play it safe.

We don't realize that our tacit acceptance/condonement of this kind of pseudo-science helps foster a culture where hundreds are killed on a yearly basis, using the very same pseudo-science as justification.

Now good science doesn't justify the oppression of women/Jews/any other hated minority group. Superstition, religion, and sorcery however, can be BEAUTIFULLY crafted to justify any and all sorts of oppression.

Backing most forms of oppression/discrimination, you'll find superstition/religion/bad science. Menstruating women are unclean. God hates fags, feminists and female priests. Black people are sub-human. Epileptic people are possessed by the devil. I could go on.

Find me a popular newspaper that doesn't carry either an astrology/feng shui or vaastu section, and that's when I'll be convinced that maybe, just MAYBE, we're BEGINNING to grow a collective national brain.

We're almost as bad as medieval Europe. Shame on us.

Anonymous said...
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jerry said...

Its definitely sick to know it sill persists. Thought these things were all settling in dust, history and fiction.

rajan said...

So u dnt want to answer my question on your abuse. hobo and raindrop are ur chamchas and u r sitting in comfort behind them. i will still wait for ur answer.

Urban Bourbon Ninja said...

dude... i work in telangana :) I'd argue with you, but you're, like, cute and tall, which is very close to perfection.

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ Rohini: OMG, are you serious? If that is the case, then who am I to talk about folks in rural areas when city dwellers do not behave differently. The very thought depresses me. :(

@ Mahi: Welcome to India, the land rich in 'culture' and 'tradition'. you get my drift.

@ Hedonistic hobo: Brava! *clap clap*
I love to see douche-bags like rajan getting some sense knocked into their heads. Though I doubt that any of it actually entered his thick skull. Oh as for the links... I like to have links for hotlines, crisis centers and whatnot as Ive actually had people email me and ask me for help, I just thought I'll make it easier for them. :)

@ La vida loca: It always has, and if there isnt a drastic change in social reform I'm afraid it always will be.

@ Swapna: yeah, we are supposed to be. Riiight. Sigh.

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ Raindrop: That is exactly the problem with our society. Even 'educated' and seemingly 'liberal' folks will still look at muhurat or whatever craphola for like going to the bank for an important transaction. It pisses me off.
The thing is, our society is ridden with contradictions and folks working hard at creating a cocoon of denial around themselves, so it becomes easy to fall back on pseud 'culture', 'tradition' and 'religious morals' when they actually have to suck it up and take resposibility for their actions.

and then we have folks like rajan who seems to be hellbent on proving us right. Heh.

@ Jerry: I know, eh. You would think that they dont exist but sadly they do. Argh.

@ Rajan: First of all, why do you folks think that if I stand up for womens rights, I must be raped/ child molested/ gang raped/ abused/ Beaten etc etc. Really, enlighten me please.

So since you are evidenly a moron of the first order, do I assume (by your own brand of logic) that you fell down a lot while you were a child and you bumped your head several times? Like what kind of twisted logic are you using anyway?

@ Urban ninja: I missed you! And with the telengana bit, I think I read about in in a couple of articles. Thats why I mentioned it.

Aaand, *wags finger at ninja*..you actually made me blush. Punksters dont take kindly to blushing. Prepare to be beaten or spanked. Ahem.

Phoenix said...

Try reading "Bayen" by Mahasweta Devi.. it is a beautiful story.. tragic and chilling.. about a mother who is outcaste because she is believed to be a witch..

Appu said...

we still have illiteracy babe. and the only reason these people are surviving is to vote politicians to power. sometimes i think things will never change

Urban Bourbon Ninja said...

now must i beg to get you to comment on my blog?

blah_blah_blogger said...

The stats are revealing, but the question is, who will bell the cat? An individual? No, coz he will be too scared of a backlash. A politician?? Hell no. He would never risk falling out of favour with localites. The local civil servants? No, coz they work 'under' the politicians...an odd NGO may make some noise, but such noises almost always go unheard or are at best ignored. The media and NGOs together do have the potential to bring awareness but even the media seems to have lost the dogged persistence required to pursue a story over a day, week, month or a year. It's usually one stray report somewhere and curtains.

And no, I don't think that illiteracy is the sole responsible factor. Yes, it is a catalyst to such beliefs but even educated ones indulge in it unapologetically...

Having said that, I sincerely do wish that somebody bells the cat. It would be a much worthier cause for human rights activists to fight rather than seeking clemency for a terrorist like Afzal Guru

Anonymous said...

:(

the question that begs to be answered of course is what does one, anyone do about it?

I know you can't answer that.. but it just begs to be asked. I wonder if we can really do anything except feel the hurt, live the pain. It is so just revolting and miserable that being helpless almost makes me feel dirty.

p.s. have you been following BB's travails over the availability of EC?

Nath said...

Raindrop: Find me a popular newspaper that doesn't carry either an astrology/feng shui or vaastu section, and that's when I'll be convinced that maybe, just MAYBE, we're BEGINNING to grow a collective national brain.

Yeah, don't hold your breath. People want to believe in astrology, ninja-fairies and whatnot, and won't let silly little things like reason get in their way. Of course, this is far from India-specific.

They claimed they didn't REALLY believe in the stuff, but they didn't want to take any chances. Their argument was, it may not do us any good, but it's not going to hurt us. It's the same with marriage and horoscopes. Let's be honest, MOST of us believe that shit. Or we'd rather just play it safe.

Good old Pascal's wager. There's a reason there's a logical fallacy named after it.

blah_blah_blogger: The stats are revealing, but the question is, who will bell the cat?

I doubt this is a simple matter of cat-belling. Even once all cats are duly belled, peoples' attitudes change slowly, and easily revert to their natural state.

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suryakannan said...

hi, how r u? plz chk out my blog,i'm trying to breathe life into it.

Urban Bourbon Ninja said...

@ Nath ~ Ninja-Fairies? What? Where? I want.

Nath said...

I'd elaborate, but I think some people would unnecessarily take offence if I were to be more specific about which of their imaginary friends I'm referring to as a ninja fairy. It's a pity, really -- I think ninja-fairies would be pretty neat.

nevermind said...

Punkster; v. good post and thank you.

About your BBC link- you've probably noticed the chap at the bottom who's gone to great lengths to correct any 'misunderstandings' that a non-Indian reader may carry home from this. And that's emblematic of the contradictory hypocrisy that pervades contemporary India, at once a desperately wannabe 'superpower' and a society that cannot provide basic needs to vast swathes of it's populace. And in that sense we are all collectively responsible for this state of affairs, which means that everytime we give in to something that remotely encourages oppression and disempowerment e.g. an arranged marriage where soft coercion is employed, we are indirectly perpetuating the entire cycle.

And in that sense your previous post is linked to this one i.e. the two experiences are linked at some level, so maybe you should go after the eye doctor. Not because you are going to get something out of it, but because it'll be a kick in his balls and maybe, deter even others in his wider circle of interaction. Just maybe. You have sufficient grounds for at the least, a formal complaint of malpractice.

Apropos literacy; public health and social policy studies worldwide have shown that if anything, literacy is the one thing that's overarchingly protective. It may not kill superstition (since that's probably as hardwired as religion) but it certainly reduces it's magnitude and negative consequences dramatically.

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ Phoenix: Thanks for the suggestion. I'll probably try to find a copy this weekend.

@ Appu: God, I know. But I try not to dwell on it because it depresses me so much.

@ Ninja: No, you dont! *sheepish look* I havent been-a-visiting to your blog as often as I'd like to. But that will change, I promise.

@ Blah blah blogger: I'll have to agree with Nath here. It is not a simple question of who will bell the cat. What we really need is a reversal of cultural attitudes towards women. I know that it takes years...centuries even, to achieve a complete turnaround in attitudes, but that is what we should go for: uprooting the roots of the problem. The problem here as we all know is that a whole gender has been made into one, large scapegoat (wrt the witch-craft issue). You see where I'm going with this?

@ Jupe: Oh god yes. I want to email her, just to show her my support you know...do you want to do it?

@ Nath: Ninja Fairies? Hmm?

@ Suryakannan: Of course.

@ Nevermind: You stole the words out of my mouth. When I was typing out this post, I actually regretted the fact that I didnt go after the doctor and I thought it was weird that I would think about the eye surgery while typing out a post about 'witch-craft', but I guess you did too.

sac said...

goddamn. when i was like 12 or 13, i read a story in The Week, of this young (bihari?) couple who were beaten and barbarically tortured and ultimately lynched because - they were lovers of different castes. everytime i read that phrase 'india shining' now, i truly want to barf. except in small urban pockets and the style pages of newspapers, we are often a sad little country who feel proud of our nuclear bombs and space programs but, in our depths, are agonisingly unevolved, unethical, uncivilised, take your pick. for all the problems 'the west' may have, they've gotten over this shit, at least. but no, we'd rather demonstrate against fucking McDonalds than try to wipe out these base, crude aspects of our 'culture'.

sac said...
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nevermind said...

You can still go after the doctor- especially since you've put the whole thing down in a post. That's all you need, a detailed blow-by-blow account of what happened as you remember it, that you've dated, timed and written down. And you have that, courtesy your blog;-)

The hiatus between the incident and it's reporting shouldn't really matter. And good luck if you decide that it's worth your time. I know I am egging you on, but really...

Sue said...

I remember about 3 years ago there was this man somewhere in rural West Bengal who married his four year-old daughter to a dog to somehow ward off some evil eye. Caused quite an uproar.

For once though I think the fellow-villagers gave him grief. Probably the adverse publicity from all the city papers pierced their superstitious haze.

the wannabe indian punkster said...

@ Sac: Thats exactly what the problem is with our so called 'culture' which people seem to worship. Every time someone tells me the west has no 'culture' as an excuse to cover up for their shitty actions, it makes my blood boil.

@ Nevermind: Well, you ARE egging me on, but I needed that. After I looked at your comment Ive been thinking about going after him myself and this is just the push I required. Thank you so much. I really really needed someone to force the idea into my head. Thanks again! :)

@ Sue: :O, but wait a minute...I remember reading something about how a girl was married to a donkey to get rid of a family curse or something. Makes me sick. UGH.

md said...

Hi Megah, I think it is a good thing that you are increasing the awareness about things that still happen in India. I believe, I have read of similar accounts in Madhya Pradesh as well.

I think the generic problem that peeves me the most is the treatment of women in Indian society. We worship the feminine aspect of life and nature through festivals such as Navaratri and Lakshmi pujas, but at the same time ill-treat our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters.

The thing that shocks me the most is that this is evident even in so-called "highly educated" families. And the perpetrators of such things are not limited to men; it is horrifying that many times such a treatment is actually instigated by another woman!

It almost makes me think that the root cause of the problem is not gender, but rather the mind or the inner nature of a person. I am sure there are a lot of ignorant uneducated yet good men out there as well as a number of well-educated women who ill-treat others as well. However, what is common though is that the victim is typically a woman who is considered weak by the society and who must suffer the consquences.

I think our education system must focus on broadening our vision and minds, so we can treat everyone in society with respect.

Btw, are you a grad student? I am one too ..

md said...

oh Gggggod!! Sorry I misspelt your name .. :( .. MEGHA :)

Why Am I said...

ppl really need an excuse..plain and simple..either a woman's a witch or a bitch..and its shocking to know tht such witch burning happens in this day and age!...i have read and watched numerous news articles where women truly belive tht they have sinned and shud die ...why??bcos there is an epidemic in the village..or a flood..or no harvest..!! like u say...only bcos we dont see such things happening doesnt mean that they dont..

anonymouse said...

Perhaps Clara would like to tell us if Torquemada was evil?