Wednesday February 21, 2018
Home India Witchcraft: D...

Witchcraft: Demystifying the decapitation, rape and banishment of women

0
//
411
respectwomen.co.in
Republish
Reprint

By Gaurav Sharma

witching-hour-583070_640

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.

 

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2015 NewsGram

Next Story

How telecom has become driver of economic change in India

0
//
15
The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front.
The country's hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. Wikimedia Commons
  • India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution
  • The sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991
  • India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world

For the most part of human history, the change was glacial in pace. It was quite safe to assume that the world at the time of your death would look pretty much similar to the one at the time of your birth. That is no longer the case, and the pace of change seems to be growing exponentially. Futurist Ray Kurzweil put it succinctly when he wrote in 2001: “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” Since the time of his writing, a lot has changed, especially with the advent of the internet.

India has done well to stay ahead of the curve in the technological revolution. The country’s hyper-competitive telecom sector has led the revolution from the front. In fact, according to Reserve Bank of India data, the sectoral change in productivity has been the highest in the telecommunications sector since the reforms of 1991, growing by over 10 percent. On the other hand, no other sector has had a productivity growth of above five percent during the same period. It is no wonder that it has also been one of the fastest-growing sectors of the Indian economy, growing at over seven percent in the last decade itself.

Also Read: Social Media in India: Understanding The Dynamics of ‘Facebook’ and ‘Twitter’

Such an unprecedented pace of growth has been brought about the precise levels of change that Kurzweil was so enthusiastic about. Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Meanwhile, India has managed to provide the cheapest telephony services around the world, which has hit rock bottom after the entry of Reliance Jio. This has ensured access to those even at the bottom of the pyramid.

A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country.
A rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. Wikimedia Commons

Even though consumers have come to be accustomed to fast-paced changes within the telecom sector, the entry of Jio altered the face of the industry like never before by changing the very basis of competition. Data became the focal point of competition for an industry that derived over 75 percent of its revenue from voice. It was quite obvious that there would be immediate economic effects due to it. Now that we’re nearing a year of Jio’s paid operations, during which time it has even become profitable, we saw it fit to quantify its socio-economic impact on the country. Three broad takeaways need to be highlighted.

Also Read: Quoting WhatsApp message renders ‘delete’ feature ineffective

First, the most evident effect has been the rise in affordability of calling and data services. Voice services have become practically costless while data prices have dropped from an average of Rs 152 per GB to lower than Rs 10 per GB. Such a drastic reduction in data prices has not only brought the internet within the reach of a larger proportion of the Indian population but has also allowed newer segments of society to use and experience it for the first time. Since the monthly saving of an average internet user came out to be Rs 142 per month (taking a conservative estimate that the consumer is still using 1 GB of data each month) and there are about 350 million mobile internet users in the country (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India data), the yearly financial savings for the entire country comes out to be Rs 60,000 crore.

To put things in perspective, this amount is more than four times the entire GDP of Bhutan. Therefore, mere savings by the consumer on data has been at astonishing proportions.

Today's smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons
Today’s smartphones have the power of computers that took an entire room in the 1990s, and the telecom sector has had to keep up with a provision of commensurate internet speeds and services. Wikimedia Commons

Now, this data has been used for services that have brought to life a thriving app economy within the country. So, the second level of impact has been in the redressal of a variety of consumer needs — ranging from education, health and entertainment to banking. For instance, students in remote areas can now access online courseware and small businesses can access newer markets. Information asymmetry has been considerably reduced.

Third, a rise in internet penetration has distinct positive effects on economic growth of a country. These effects arise not merely from the creation of an internet economy, but also due to the synergy effects it generates. Information becomes more accessible and communication a lot easier. Businesses find it easier to operate and access consumers. Labour working in cities has to make less frequent trips home and becomes more productive as a result. Education and health services become available in inaccessible locations. Multiple avenues open up for knowledge and skill enhancement.

Also Read: Facebook to ‘Signal’ news gathering for journos

An econometric analysis for the Indian economy showed that the 15 percent increase in internet penetration due to Jio and the spill-over effects it creates will raise the per capita levels of the country’s GDP by 5.85 percent, provided all else remains constant.

Thus, India’s telecom sector will continue to drive the economy forward, at least in the short run, and hopefully catapult India into 20,000 years of progress within this century, as Kurzweil postulated. The best approach for the state would be to ensure the environment of unfettered competition within the industry. Maybe other sectors of the economy ought to take a leaf out of the telecom growth story. The Indian banking sector comes to mind. However, that is a topic for another day. (IANS)

(Amit Kapoor is Chair, Institute for Competitiveness, India. He can be contacted at Amit. Kapoor@competitiveness.in and tweets @kautiliya. Chirag Yadav, a senior researcher at the institute, has contributed to the article.)