Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Witchcraft in India

I had a discussion with book blogger Gautami Tripathy of India about her country's modern-day persecution of witches. She was kind enough to agree to write a guest post for me. She cautioned me, "I tweaked it a bit leaving out specific places. Remember, ours is a volatile country."

Please leave comments here and I can get them to her, or you can visit her at Everything Distills into Reading.


Witch Trials in India

By Gautami Tripathy

I have read a lot of books on the Salem witch trials. And I have been horrified by it, as I ought to be. Most of us think of it as something which is in the past, and simply move on after deploring the past with platitudes.

Is it in the past? And gone? Not so. Here I will highlight that aspect. Witch trials are still happening in today's India. Scary, isn't it?

What is the reason that it still persists? Superstition? Religion? Those do not even scratch the surface. It is more on the lines of property rights. Brand a woman as a witch, throw her out of the village and grab her property. It happens with those women who have no family support and no one to speak for them other than themselves. Sometimes it is also done to settle scores against women who have spurned sexual advances from powerful men. Those women too aren't spared who question the societal norms or go against them. How can a man's ego, any man's ego, stand that?

Mostly childless and helpless widows face the brunt because the husband's family don't want to share their property with her and want her gone from their fold. The villager elders instead of supporting the woman even instigate the woman to be thrown out or sometimes killed. When mobs come out, what does a woman do? The law either turns a blind eye or turns up after the deed is done. With virtually no witnesses, the culprits go scot-free.

Sometimes religious beliefs allow a woman to be tortured. Hinduism too has stories about witches and if something happens to someone, the woman is blamed and all come out against her. In recent years, as many as 700 women have been hunted down as witches.

Most of the witch trials end up in killing. NGOs have come up, spreading awareness, providing for helpless females, but it still isn't enough. As long the feudal spirit persists, superstition rules the roost, and spreading awareness will not help.

Frankly, the government is apathetic too, which is a shame. Maybe it thinks brushing it under the carpet will make it go away.

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