Witchcraft: A Credulous Belief Or Superstition
“Witch” as a word derives from the Old English words “wicca” and “wicce”. This later became “wicche”, in Middle English, which meant the same thing as “wicca” and “wicce”, but didn’t distinguish between the genders, being used to refer to both men and women. By the 16th century, the spelling had changed from “wicche” to “witch” and, by this time, the word was almost exclusively used to refer to women, as it still is today.
Daayan or Daayani is a term for a witch in India descended from the Sanskrit word dakini, which refers to a female supernatural being. The dakini appeared in medieval legends in South Asia such as in the Bhagavata Purana, Brahma Purana, Markandeya Purana and Kathasaritsagara as a demon in the train of Kali who feeds on human flesh. They are comparable to malevolent or vengeful female spirits, imps or fairies in other cultures, such as the Persian peri. Daayans worship the mother goddesses Kali and Durga. Many believe they are the handmaidens of these goddesses, and are known as yoginis in local lore. The concept of witchcraft and the belief in its existence have existed throughout recorded history. They have been present at various times, and in many diverse forms, among cultures and religions worldwide, including both "primitive" and "highly advanced" cultures and continue to have an important role in many cultures today. India represents a modern-day paradox. On the one hand, it is the largest democracy in the world and has a rapidly growing economy. On the other, most of the population remains poor, and Indians, both educated and not, often turn to superstition to cure illness, find love, and rationalize bad events. This modern superstition has deadly consequences reminiscent of the witchcraft craze in America. In India, a person accused of being a “dayan” or witch can be tortured, raped, hacked to death, or burned alive. Victims are often single older women, usually widows, but they can also be males or children.
In Tagore’s study in the family home of Jorasanko, there was a skeleton that had been used to teach Tagore anatomy as a young boy. In his own masterpiece Konkal, Tagore writes that when he had to spend a night in that room years later, he felt that the skeleton wanted to talk to him. It turned out that when alive, the skeleton had belonged to a pretty, young widow. She was attracted to a young doctor who was her brother’s friend. She thought the attraction was mutual, but the doctor decided to marry some other girl. On the evening of his marriage, the doctor came to his friend for a celebratory drink. Playing the hostess, the widow fixed the drink, laced it with poison which she also consumed. More than the barebones of the story, it is Tagore’s style that makes Konkal memorable — the description of the spring night in which all this happens and Tagore’s sensitivity in his description of how widowhood deprived a vivacious woman of her real spirit.
Well, A 2002 Skeptical Briefs report detailed a team of medical doctors, magicians, and social workers who conducted educational outreach in rural Indian villages to prevent violence spawned by belief in witchcraft. Despite such efforts, superstitious belief in witchcraft continues to plague parts of India, resulting in injury or death. The Indian government’s most recent data shows that 119 people were killed with witchcraft being the “motivation” in 2012. A National Crime Records Bureau report revealed that more than 1,700 women were murdered for witchcraft between 1991 and 2010. The numbers are undoubtedly actually higher, as many cases go unreported or authorities refuse to register the cases. Hence allegations of witchcraft that result in communal murder have long been a part of rural India’s history. In the last two years, there have been several notable murders involving allegations of witchcraft. In 2012, four people were murdered in about a month’s span in Jharkhand. If the suspects are convicted of breaking the Dayan Pratha law, they will face a longer prison sentence than if they just committed murder. Vimla Pradhan, Jharkhand’s social welfare minister, said the government has funded an awareness campaign to end the superstition that has led to atrocities against women. Nevertheless, in November 2013, a mother and daughter in Jharkhand were pulled out of their home by villagers who took them to a nearby forest and slit their throats. After the mother’s husband died years before, rumors began that the women were witches, and villagers blamed the women for several children becoming ill. Rajasthan is a unique state in India because it is not only the largest but also shares a border with Pakistan. In the last few years, the government passed the Rajasthan Women (Prevention and Protection from Atrocities) Bill that makes it illegal to call a woman a “dayan” or accuse a woman of performing witchcraft that leads to harm. A guilty person can be sentenced to a maximum of three years in prison. If a woman is driven to commit suicide because of witchcraft accusations, the accuser can receive a fine and ten years in prison. Moreover, Tripura being a city of peace was unable to get rid of such commonness. A 55-year-old tribal woman Kanyapati Debbarma, a mother of three children was killed by her neighbours in for allegedly practising witchcraft. She was shot dead from a close range at Shyamraichara in Kamalpur, Dhalai district in northern Tripura by a group of youths while she was cooking at night. Thus, the practice of branding women as witches and torturing them continues in remote, rural and tribal areas of Assam, Tripura and other north-eastern states. Women hence are not the only victims in witch hunts rather being annihilated.
So as a keen observer, when I analyze the stories of Late Mahasweta Devi, I do have a feeling whether it may be Bengal or any other part of the country, the situation of the oppressed (particularly women) in the whole of India and violence meted out to them remains the same. Economic exploitation, sexual oppression and state violence – all the three put together made the lives of women miserable and torturous. This scenario can be followed simultaneously in the contemporary history and in her writings. In her short story, The Witch, she paints the picture of starvation and exploitation with a female character as the centre of attraction. She reveals the secret behind turning of a woman to a daini. The villagers of Tura reel under the formless terror of daini, let loose on them by Hanuman Misra, the Hindu deota of Tahar. It is through Somri’s tale in The Witch that Devi poignantly exposes and mounts a scathing attack on the bias that inheres in woman’s gendered location dented by dual patriarchal ambush. As a member of a gaunt subaltern collectivity, her existence is not only confined by its socio- spatial configuration, but is also endangered by the intrusion of the principal class. Somri’s deafness and mental dwarf-ness, her molestation and deliberate demonization (being very cunningly marked as a daini by Thakurs of Tahar) and her consequent sub – human existence outside the periphery of civilization, symbolically capture the forced silence, insubordination and co modification of a woman situated within the matrices of conflicting patriarchal domains. The so called superior sex not only exploits her body but also very cunningly exploits the superstition of the villagers to “chase away this contaminated body out of its bound. The female body once ejected out of the legitimized space, is forced into a life of wilderness.
The focus of Devi’s craft is the effort at breaking the lackadaisical attitude and disinterest that has been erected in the minds of the ‘civilized’ world. The author uses alternate structures of harsh and brutal sentences, interspersed with acutely sensitive episodes. Finally, the author declares that this is nothing less than a war for the rights of the dispossessed which has to be fought on all fronts: social, economic, as well as political and this war is also for liberation from all types of fear, which is the right of every man, woman and child. We are fighting a great war. War against superstition ;war against atrocity (because police and public both kill them cruelly); war against a system which allows these things to happen. So, this is really a war of liberation. Changing attitudes includes exposing fraud and teaching critical thinking about superstition, which sometimes runs counter to long-held indigenous beliefs. While it is difficult or impossible to rid the world of magical thinking and superstition, there are many underfunded groups trying to end modern witch hunts that continue to plague remote parts of India as a result of which India cannot be called really independent because these people have been kept in bondage. Also because this basic war was not fought. That is why this so-called image of India is crumbling down on all fronts.