Monday, August 25, 2008

The Indian Witch-Hunt

I watched a show on Saturday on The National Geographic Channel called The Indian Witch-Hunt. It is a 3 year old film, won some awards in 2005.

The one-hour documentary is based on the state of Jharkand. To be precise, the largely prevalent witch-hunting rituals of the state. The film unravels how innocent women are accused of being witches and ill-treated beyond imagination. The story focuses on one such incident. A young man beheads his aunt because he believes she cast the 'evil eye' on his father and 2 older brothers which caused their deaths. After beheading her with a blade, he carries her head to the local police station where he tells the Inspector that his aunt was a witch. All of this is captured on tape by the local news channel, and included in this documentary. The young man's last surviving brother lauds him because he believes his life is now saved.

The journalist in this film, Sohaila Kapoor investigates further. She meets many such 'witches.' All of them have been ill-treated and have run away to other villages to save their own lives. Their children cry, because they can't lead normal lives.

The film also shows a forbidden world of Tantra. One such Tantric, and his three female disciples are showcased. The crew is allowed to film a secret ritual on a full-moon night inside a graveyard -a ritual believed to invoke in them the powers of the Demon-Goddess (also called Dayan). It begins with mantras being chanted. Then two of them get into a trance and believe that they have been possessed by the Goddess. The Goddess who is demanding blood. So, blood they give! The Tantric bites off the heads of a goat, a chicken, and a pig. And let them lie there, bleeding. Offerings to the Goddess. They reach the heights of their hypnotic state and end it with a final carnal act.

The film goes back to the investigation of why the young man believed that his aunt was possessed. How did his father and two brothers die? A little bit of research shows that all three of them suffered from severe tuberculosis. Instead of getting treated in a hospital, they went to witch-doctors.

Witch Doctors! Can you believe that this country still has witch doctors? For all the intellectual and technological advancements we've made, in some parts of India we still live in the Dark Ages. The film shows educated men and women consulting witch-doctors. Does that make any sense at all? I was horrified to see all this. Horrified to see how inhumanly the so-called 'witches' were treated. Have we lost our capability to be human? Are we so caught up in our closed, dark, narrow-minded lives that we don't see other human beings as human? It's no surprise that all these victims are Dalits or 'lower class' women. Also no surprise that in each of these cases someone has made a nice fat profit. Doesn't the law see this?

Talking about the law, did you know that Bihar was the first state to implement the Anti-Witch Hunting law in 1999? Then followed Jharkand, Chattisgarh, and Rajasthan. Over 500 people have been arrested so far for as much as branding someone a witch. I'm glad we have at least taken one small step against this practice, but I'm sure a lot more has to be done. Proper education could be one of the main ways to tackle this menace.

This practice has been prevalent in other parts of the world too. In medieval times. Not any more. Or at least that's what I've learned. Then what's wrong with our country? Is it excessive oppression? The great caste divide? Or just corruption and selfishness? Whatever it is, it is a shame for all of us who live in this country.


Kalpana Behra said...

Good going. Good going. Keep updating your blog.

My mom-in-law's sister suddenly fell ill and died when she was a teenager it seems and the village suspected black magic by a witch. Mil says that the lady who was suspected to be a witch (who was in her mid 20s) was tied to a tree and the villagers pulled out and broke all her teeth with stones and beat her black and blue! Feels sad to know that this practice is still prevalent. We will change...I am optimistic.

Nandini Vishwanath said...

OMG, in 1999??? That late? Sucks!

BTW, keep writing :)