Witch branding is strong practice in the villages. Some people to fill their pockets are intentionally promoting witch practices by fooling innocents. Bhopa is a person who by mantra, magic and traditional forest shrubs (jadi buti) cures illness. They also claim that they can check whether a person is ‘genuine’ or not. In villages, people go to Bhopa for medical treatment and for sorting their conflicts/issues.
In this blog I am documenting tribal culture around witch branding practices and how they are doing ‘justice’ with ‘these women’.
An 8-year-old boy who was suffering from jaundice and day by day his health was reducing – the family visited the Bhopa for the cure. The Bhopa gave medication but the health condition was not improving. Then he had a word with the father of the boy claiming that I can tell who is giving pain to the boy and hence he is struggling to recover. For this he asked for a donation of Rs. 10,000. The father agreed and the Bhopa claimed that the boy’s mother and 2 other aunties are behind his illness and they are ‘Daakan’ in their family. The boy died after some days. To punish the ladies in-house they played a trick. At the time of funeral of the boy, the males said the body is not burning and they found bones in his stomach which caused his death. The whole family and community started abusing the mother andaunts and decided to punish them.
Then some women of other villages interfered. They tried to convince; but people were rigid. So they agreed to test whether women are truly ‘Daakan’ or not. The family wanted to do a test called the ‘Dheej’. In this, they boil sesame seed oil and put a coin in the boiling oil. Then the blamed person will have to get the coin out from the boiling oil. If his/her hands burn then he/she is the culprit everyone is looking for. Women of other villages who are actively working with community on various issues declined to test the women this way. Finally, mutually they decided to go to the temple of their local deity ‘Tumrao Bavchi’. The blamed women were asked to hold the mud idol of God and walk backward on the stairs. If the statue is dropped by them, then they are to be declared witches. But luckily, our ladies were able to complete the task successfully and declared innocent.
I spoke with these women later and asked them that they all know the law against the witch branding and that no one is a witch. Then? They replied that it is difficult to convince people who still strongly believe in these customs. “I know i am not a witch, but how will my family know?” This pretty much sums up the status of women in this community. Their understanding has improved, but it is still a long way to being behaviour change.
I do not argue too much now, i understand that this is not the ideal state; but definitely miles ahead of what the situation was a few years ago. For women to have come and intervened in the entire process to save lives, to these women now sitting in local governance bodies like Panch – things are moving in the right direction.
The fight is long, the community which still do not have exposure to the outside world will take long time to differentiate between myths and the truth. There is need of more active women leaders like these who work with community to free them from old customs and myths.
*** featured image – indialivetoday.org
Read past article by same author on the topic here.