Tuesday November 21, 2017
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Witchcraft: Demystifying the decapitation, rape and banishment of women


By Gaurav Sharma


The word witchcraft draws up vivid images of wicked women with a visibly protruding nose, scary claw-like fingernails, adorning a long, pointed hat which barely hides their wrinkled skin and bulging pimples. And all of them fly in the air on a magical broom!

Vivid but fictitious.

Notions of witchcraft being an insidious form of sorcery directed at the harm of an external individual are largely misplaced. In India, such misconceived perceptions have led to an epidemic of witch-hunt ‘expeditions’. Scores of women have been paraded naked, raped brutally, lacerated at their breasts, apart from being ostracised from society in such planned campaigns.

Gravity of Epidemic

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a total of 2,047 crimes related to witch hunting were committed between 2000 and 2012. A vast majority of such crimes ensued in the states of Chattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam. Other cities such as Haryana, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat were also party to the witch-hunting saga.

Most of the women attacked were single or widowed. A vast majority of them held private land and were self-sustaining.

The prime motivation for such heinous crimes arises from basic factors such as illiteracy and deeply ingrained superstitions to more complex issues such as family land disputes, women property rights and sensitive gender relations.

Last year, Debjani Bora, an Indian athlete (javelin thrower) came under the trap of  witch-hunting atrocity. She recounted with horror and grim sadness how she was tied and beaten up after being labeled a witch in connection with four deaths that took place in her village in the north-eastern state of Assam.

Going back further in the timeline, one finds countless cases where women have been victimized for such nefarious practices. Recently, a 63-year-old woman was beheaded by a group of villagers who suspected her of practicing witchcraft in Assam’s Sonitpur district.

Picture credit: nigeriadailynews.com
Picture credit: nigeriadailynews.com

The woman was beaten to a pulp and her head was later severed with a sharp weapon. Starkly resembling cases are common day occurrences in other remote parts of the country.

Concept and evolution of witchcraft

Contrary to popular notions, Witchcraft is known to have existed since the beginning of mankind, in both primitive and advanced cultures. According to scholars of witchcraft (wicca tradition), the earth-based religion predates the vast corpus of religions existing today by arguing that the belief system was present 40,000 years before the paleolithic age.

The subjective translation of the term witchcraft, literally meaning someone who practices the skill or craft of sorcery, connotates roughly equivalent terms in other European languages but do not translate into precisely the same meaning.  (Hexerei (German), str gone ria (Italian) etcetera)

Picture credit:digitaljournal.org

This gulf is further widened when translated into Asian and African languages (Daayan). Defining witchcraft becomes a Sisyphean task keeping in mind natural factors such as time and place and sociological factors such as culture, religion, and occultism.

Irrespective of the complexity involved in generalizing witchcraft, its present stereotypical perception as a mythical rendezvous between crones in the dead of the night, performing black magic and indulging in forbidden acts of cannibalism and licentious, orgiastic communion with the Devil are derivations from the Old Testament laws against witchcraft.

Following the church approval in the early modern period(14th Century-18th Century AD), witchcraft gained mass acceptance. Christianity posited a theosophical tug of war between good and evil, where practicing witchcraft was tantamount to worshipping the Devil. The proposition was used as a means to attribute deaths caused by natural and accidental causes such as plague, murder etcetera.

Adopting the hatching of such a conspiracy, massive witch-trials and witch-hunts were organized, largely in Protestant Europe.

With the rise in awareness of the so-called terror imposed by witchcraft, fanatical but popular leaders such as Bernardino of Siena arose and took the mantle of annihilating the ‘Devil worshippers’, those who had joined hands to engage in an apocalyptic battle with Christianity.

This false propaganda was further fueled with the publication of Malleus Maleficarum ( malevolent magic) by two German monks, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger. The belief was further propagated by both Catholics and Protestants, although the book was later banned (not before being for used sumptuously for several years).

All this historicity culminates into a rather intriguing, and a more paradoxical question; that a ‘beguiling’ and ‘superstitious’ act such as witchcraft should coexist at a time when the Scientific revolution, reformation, and renaissance were remoulding the structure of people’s mind and their environment in leaps and bounds.

So what justifies this conundrum?

For one, there never existed an organized or unorganized witch-cult, ‘Witches’ were not healers or midwives that were part of a pagan religion. ‘Witches’ were not solely women of a particular age but included both sexes and ages. Witches did not exist, and so claims of them being a persecuted minority are fabricated theories. This is not to say that witch hunts did not exist, but that those killed in the extermination were thrust into a manipulated label or category called witches.woman-269705_640

“Black masses and witch doctors were a figment of the imagination of the modern writers”, says the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Indian Emergence

Although the Indian term for witch called Daayana, is depicted in the ancient Hindu scriptures through the word Dakini–meaning a supernatural woman, the daayan cult emerged not until the 15th century in Maharashtra.

It is noteworthy that during the age of colonialism, India was subjected to intensive Christian missionary activity, during which a wide array of thoughts and beliefs were transmitted and ingrained into the minds of the local populace. The result being that generations till now scapegoat and kill ‘witches’ for their supposedly magical body parts.

Villagers are still disillusioned with modern science due to their inherent belief in diseases being caused by witchcraft. It is contended that treatment of chronic illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and the Ebola virus has been severely hampered due to such ill rooted beliefs. Containment and treatment of other acute diseases such as tuberculosis, epilepsy, leprosy etc have also been immensely affected.

Rajputana( present day Rajasthan) and the Chota Nagpur region in Jharkhand were breeding grounds for witch-hunting during the 1840’s and 50’s. Fusing gender and colonial tensions together, mass huntings of witched began among the tribal Singhbhum and Santhal Parganas during the same time..

As the turn of the late 19th and early 20th century came, women classified as witches were ostracised from society. The practice came to a gradual halt between the 1930’s to the 1970’s, the time period during which the the Adivaasi movement scaled-up. It re-emerged in the 1980’s and has till now not shown any signs of abating.

Present Scenario

Currently, three states have formed legislations to counter the menace of witch-hunting–Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Bihar. Maharashtra was the first state to introduce a law in recognition of the vicious treatment meted out to women by labeling them witches.

Other states such as Rajasthan and Karnataka are expected to follow suit. However, the lack of a national legislation is bound to remain a snag in the ironing out of the chinks in the legislative armour governing women rights. Lack of an anti-witchcraft act in toto makes the little progress that states have made negligible and hollow.

To add to the sorry state of affairs in protection of women from such social stigmas, the state law is rarely invoked without the concomitant application of the Indian Penal Code. This is to say that the state law on its own is a powerless structure.

Clearly, the law as it stands today lacks the desired efficacy and needs to be upended to make it nationally viable.

Transforming the attitude of the rural masses is also urgently required. Fomenting critical thinking and rationality is the need of the hour. However, bringing about such a fundamental change is easier said than done. In this regard, the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra (RLEK), a training institute for making advocacy and lobbying has made much needed inroads into stemming the deeply entrenched belief systems of rural households through literacy programs. Its activities are indeed laudable though not enough.

Extricating misplaced notions calls for de-cluttering the mental garbage that has obscured the rationality of man. The only problem being magic has ruled the hearts of people for time immemorial and to win them over calls for a concrete, concerted effort. This requires political will which is visibly lacking in the country.


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Dalai Lama says that India and China have great potential

The spiritual leader feels that both the countries are doing compassionate works

Dalai Lama talks about India and China
Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai says that India and China can work together. VOA

New Delhi, Nov 19

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on Sunday said India and China have “great potential” and they could work together at a “practical level”.

“I think, a great potential… India and China combined are doing more compassionate work… At a practical level also. Imagine two billion people working together,” he told reporters here after inaugurating Smile Foundation’s initiative, The World of Children.

The spiritual leader, who has lived in India in self-imposed exile since 1959, said neither country had the “ability to destroy the other”.

“Whether you like it or not, you have to live side by side,” he said.

Underlining the ancient spiritual connection between the two countries, he said Chinese Buddhist Hsuan Tsang visited Nalanda (now in Bihar) and brought Nalanda Buddhist traditions to China.

“All thinkers of Nalanda are Indian. So Nalanda’s tradition is India’s tradition,” he said.

The Nalanda traditions had turned Tibetans, who were warriors, into more compassionate, peaceful and non-violent nation, he said.

“So sometimes in Delhi, teasing my Indian friend, (I say) if Tibet still remained in the previous way of life, like Mongols, Chinese invasion may not have taken place,” the Dalai Lama said in a lighter vein.

He said nobody in the world wanted violence but it was happening “because our minds are dominated by destructive emotions due to short-sightedness”.

“Nobody wants problems. Yet, many problems are our own creation.”

The Dalai Lama said the existing modern education was oriented to material values. India can take lead in improving the education system by combining modern education with ancient knowledge, he said. (IANS)

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Manushi Chhillar from India Wins the Miss World 2017 Title

India's Manushi Chillar won the coveted Miss World 2017 pageant here, 16 years after Priyanka Chopra won the title in 2000.

Miss World
Manushi Chhillar has been crowned as Miss World 2017. Instagram #ManushiChhillar

China, November 19: India’s Manushi Chhillar won the coveted Miss World 2017 pageant, 16 years after Priyanka Chopra won the title in 2000.

Chhillar competed against 108 contestants from various countries at a glittering event held at Sanya City Arena here.

Miss World 2016 winner Puerto Rico’s Stephanie Del Valle gave away the coveted crown to the winner.

Chhillar, who is from Haryana, had earlier this year won the Femina Miss India 2017.

Miss world
Anti Ageing was the official skin care expert for Manushi Chhillar at the Miss World 2017 pageant. Instagram #ManushiChhillar

India, England, France, Kenya and Mexico grabbed the top five spots at the peagant.

Manushi, born to doctor parents, studied in St. Thomas School in New Delhi and Bhagat Phool Singh Government Medical College for Women in Sonepat.

Her entire family including brother and sister were present and they looked excited watching Manushi grabbing top five spot.

As many as 108 beauty queens from different parts of the world participated in the prestigious pageant. (IANS)

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The major Challenge is to make the Youth of the Country Entrepreneurial and not Job Seekers : Venkaiah Naidu

"The challenge for us is to make the youth entrepreneurial, and not become job seekers," Venkaiah Naidu said pointing to the NDA government's various initiatives.

Venkaiah Naidu
Venkaiah Naidu. Wikimedia Commons
  • At a time of tepid job growth and continuing income disparities, the major challenge is to make the youth of the country entrepreneurial and not job seekers, Vice President  Venkaiah Naidu said on Thursday.

“Disparities continue to remain in India and so there is a need for inclusive growth… there is the need to take care of the suppressed, oppressed and depressed,” Venkaiah Naidu said at the Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust’s (BYST) silver jubilee celebrations here with Britain’s Prince Charles as the chief guest.

“The challenge for us is to make the youth entrepreneurial, and not become job seekers,” Venkaiah Naidu said pointing to the NDA government’s various initiatives to encourage youth enterprises like Startup India, Standup India and the Mudra financing scheme for underprivileged sections.

Modelled on Prince Charles’ Trust for business startups, BYST, founded by Lakshmi Venkatesan, daughter of former President R. Venkatraman, is engaged in building rural entrepreneurship — “grampreneurs” — as also enterprise among under-privileged sections, which includes business mentoring. The current BYST chairman is Bajaj Group chief, Rahul Bajaj.

“Without mentoring, it would be very difficult to set up startups, with all the business, marketing and other vital issues involved in the first two-three years,” Prince Charles said in his address at the International Mentoring Summit organized by BYST to mark its 25 years.

“What amazes me are the sheer number of jobs these young entrepreneurs had created. The aim of such a project should be to create a virtual cycle of creating entrepreneurs who can then invest in the future of business,” Charles said referring to his trust.

BYST was officially launched in 1992 by Prince Charles and expanded its operations to six major regions of India.

Out of these six regions, four — Delhi, Chennai, Pune and Hyderabad — run the urban programme while two regions — Haryana and Maharashtra — run the rural programme.(IANS)