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Dark side of India: witchcraft and superstitions

New Delhi, Tue, 08 Apr 2008 Binita Tiwari

There is something common among Lal Pari Devi, Kalawati, Rashmi Devi and Samri Devi, who were either paraded naked or were beaten black and blue by the villagers, as they were suspected of practicing witchcraft.

This is India for those who think India is liberated...yes it is! The pace at which India has moved forward; the same pace has dragged India backward.

The sharp contrast is very much visible, at this moment when India is the major contributor to the world best mind but even today the word like social evils continues to guard our conscience.

Lal Pari Devi was beaten, tied to a tree and the people’s court gave its verdict and decided to chop her hair and smeared her face with lime. Kalawati, a widow was paraded naked in a village in Bihar because she dared to enter the village Temple in spite of being a widow and a Dalit too, while the two other women were forced to swallow human excreta by villagers who blamed them for being responsible for an outbreak of chicken pox.

According to Atheist Centre, which in its investigation of witchcraft in one of the district of Andhra Pradesh wrote, “People’s ignorance, illiteracy, ill health and a strong socio-cultural belief in the existence of witchcraft are causing untold misery to the people. Many times the belief in witchcraft led to violent incidents resulting in the plucking of teeth, breaking of hands and legs, cutting off the tongues, and in some cases burning to death of the so-called sorcerers. Gruesome murders take place and sometimes they are banished from the village after subjecting them to severe torture.”

We get to hear such news from across India in which innocent people in the name of practicing witchcraft undergo severe treatment and even lose their life. Some are beheaded, some are tortured to death, tongues are chopped off or nails are taken out.

In one such case all the hell broke when a woman suspected of witchcraft was tied and beaten and finally hanged upside-down from a tree and a fire was lit under her so that flame could not reach her body. She was charred to death slowly and painfully.

It is also observed that witchcraft is mainly observed in a part of rural or tribal India where education still seems like a distant dream. Superstitions rule our psyche and are very much an accepted notion even today not only in India but abroad too.

Voltaire had once compared ‘superstition in a religion’ to a ‘mad daughter of a wise mother.’ The fear of its existence is deeply rooted and can be averted with awareness and education. It’s the judgment of error but at the cost of many innocent lives.

As many such incident occur in far flung areas and often are not reported, the local police and administration too have come lightly on such matter as a result many such offenders gets to roam free and repeat the horrendous crime over and over again.

Absence of medical facilities in such areas drives the local inhabitants to seek treatment from untrained person. They often fell pray to witch doctors who guide them to witches and sorcerers for their ill fortune and as a result they end up taking peoples lives by branding them of practicing witchcraft without any evidence.

The unreasonable adherence to superstition has led villagers and tribal people to blame witches from bad luck to failure of crops.

But many social scientists believe that under the veil of superstition or witchcraft people carry out their hatred towards women to grab their land, family rivalry or to seek revenge if other has denied sexual advances.

Widely evident from the reports and various studies that women from vulnerable group are only meted with such crimes and never a woman from upper caste.

Recently a woman in Chandigarh sacrificed her nephew under influence of a tantric who advised her to sacrifice a male child, if she wanted to have a baby of her own. The dark side of it also remains as many people fall pray to such tantriks and commit obnoxious crimes to fulfill their desires.

The onus lies to state and center, which must take harsh steps to the perpetrator of such crimes, law should be there to make it a social crime and punish the person behind such crime.

Bihar has become a breeding ground of such people who have started taking law in their hand. Their kangaroo court punishes all sort of crimes, several of cases recently has showed Bihar heading on wrong track.

What laws like Atrocities Prevention Act against ST/SC serve which never comes out from the law book to punish the accused?

We must not forget that we are human first and should not witness such inhumane activities. After all there is one or two person who commits such heartless crime in a village, but is less culpable than the whole villagers who either provoke them or mutely observes such callous act.


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Christopher Kimberley

April 9, 2008 at 12:00 AM

India is not alone as a state where sanctions against atrocities are poorly administered.

There are many countries in the world where there are deeply held beliefs in witchcraft which seem to defy the opinion of the central governing elite.

India is unique in that there is an expanding economy and democracy but for many of the population these have no relevance in their daily lives.

In the wealth European nations there is evidence that malicious acts continue to be committed against alleged witches.

Only greater wealth for all members of society and time will lead to the worst atrocities ceasing.

Until such a situation prevails national governments must insist that the sanctions of the law are upheld and that public servants who do not do so are held to account.



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