Witch hunting in Maharashtra

 

Persecution of Women who are ‘designated as Witches

Many interior regions of Maharashtra have native, tribal inhabitants. These areas are isolated from the advancements that the rest of our society is witnessing. The advancement or progress has been largely due to better living conditions and education.

The tribal are poor and uneducated. Age-old myths about bad and evil, rituals and poojas rule the lives of these tribal. This is very unfortunate. A very barbaric tradition, namely that of witch hunting, is seen to be quite prevalent, in these areas. An assumed person, mostly a poor, hapless woman, should not be blamed for all ills and problems that are afflicting their lives.

Recently a meet was held in Nandurbar, under the aegis of MANS, where tribal participants were informed about the inappropriateness, illogicalness and futility of the practice of witch-hunting. Arguments and examples were put forth to show that such a practice was nothing but bogus. Innocent victims and their families recounted how they were put though inordinate amount of humiliation, isolation and hardship, only because some arbitrary elder in the tribe named a particular woman to be a witch.

Is not ironical that our society has such a stark contrast – on one extreme we boast of being scientifically advanced and on the other extreme we have something to be ashamed of, a completely anachronistic, unscientific practice of witch hunting?

Why and how is a woman “designated” as a witch? A murder, some illness, a theft or robbery, a food shortage, lack of rains, an epidemic and umpteen other afflictions may be prevalent in a tribal locality. The leaders of the tribe, to keep themselves in power and hold their control over the tribe, have to furnish some reasons to their clan members. Probably at the behest of a local politician or vested interests of a rich trader, the tribe leaders designate a woman as a witch. She is blamed for the affliction. The explanation given is that this woman harbors ill will and hence this affects the tribe.

But is this really true? Can a person’s ill wishes really cause murders, food shortages or epidemics? Is there any logic in these arguments? The true reason could be hidden elsewhere. May be the local political leader or a rich trader wants a liaison with this woman, maybe she spurred his advances, maybe she holds a patch of land that this person wants to grab, who knows? By making her and her family an outcast, in the face of isolation and humiliation, the so-called “witch “could be pressurized and intimidated into submission.

After she is designated a witch, a woman, who earlier probably thought herself to be bewitched and beguiling to others, may be suddenly bewildered at the course of events that have befallen her and her family!

The practice of witch hunting is definitely out of step with the twenty first century. In medieval Europe, witch-hunting and burning a woman at stake was done but that is history. Education and scientific outlook have made these societies liberal, equal and civilized. When will we say that the practice of witch hunting in Maharashtra is relegated to the pages of history?

 

Avinash Patil