SLICE OF LIFE
Free from superstition
A TAMIL saying Veliye payirai maindhadu pole deals with a situation where the fence eats away the crop, which it was supposed to guard. As we enter a new year, there are more and more instances of people and institutions that are supposed to protect us, turning against us. It is doubly difficult to deal with such situations.
In Mumbai, a former Commissioner of police heads the list of high-ranking police personnel who had been arrested for involvement in the Telgi Stamp Scam. While the people are staggered at the amounts mentioned in the scam, what was more shocking was the apparent involvement of dozens of senior and junior police officers. And the number is growing.
Watch around us. Leaders in public life whose duty is to help the people are themselves participants in all sorts of crimes. Bureaucrats, public prosecutors police officers, and even judges are mentioned in dowry-related crimes, harassing and finally murdering young women for not bringing sufficient amounts of dowry. What chances do the common citizens victims of such crimes have in seeking justice and punishing the guilty? The Chattisgarh police recently arrested J.S. Batti, the superintendent of police, Bijapur, for allegedly murdering his wife with the help of hired killers. The motive? The husband accused the wife, Vimla, of practising witchcraft! Initially, the police arrested four people, all practising witch doctors of the region, for the murder. Batti admitted he had asked the four to treat his wife by "removing the effects of witchcraft" but did not ask them to kill her. The superintendent suspected the wife of practising witchcraft on him to make him impotent, the media reports said. The local police briefed the media they had collected enough evidence including records of telephone calls made by the alleged killers to Batti before and after the murder was committed.
Yes, it reads like a weird crime thriller but newspapers do not report murder stories. In regions like Bihar and sections of Bengal, one often came across innocent women branded as witches and lynched by villagers who wanted to possess the land and property belonging to the victims. Other dark deeds in the regions included child sacrifices instigated by local tantriks who advised the killing of young children to procure hidden treasure, remove barrenness in women or do away with some age-old curses. The practitioners of such crimes were mostly illiterate men and women, in the throes of superstition and prepared to do anything told to them by tantriks and the like.
But the Chattisgargh crime was of a different nature. How can a superintendent of police believe in the mumbo-jumbo about witchcraft? Vimla was a teacher and Batti was arrested from his native Narharpur village in Bastar district in the tribal belt of Chattisgarh. It is a fact that superstition played a definite role in these areas but then Bijapur and Raipur are fairly large towns where medical facilities must have been available. Why didn't Batti consult psychiatrists if he felt that something was wrong with his wife? A police superintendent in these regions wielded plenty of clout and had access to any number of doctors and hospitals. Yet, in 2003, a person who was supposed to protect people from the likes of witch doctors consults them for the treatment of his wife. That is, if anything was really wrong with her. But if a person really believed in superstition and witchcraft, it would be difficult to divert him to sanity and modern, clear headed thinking. Medically, there could be several causes for impotence, which, certainly, was not imposed by curses or witchcraft.
Our tribal belts continued to be Areas of Darkness because even the police, government machinery and sections of judiciary could not get rid of tradition, power of witchcraft and the like. There will be plenty of people in the region who would sympathise with Batti and what he did to his wife. One wonders if the police will be able to present a case which would stick and lead to a conviction.
Unfortunately, the worst victims of such superstition and backwardness are the women. They are held accountable for everything that may go wrong.
I always wondered why the people who were killed on the suspicion of practising witchcraft were always women. Very few male witch doctors and tantriks came to grief! Their conclusions and their consequences had come to be accepted leading to disastrous results including deaths.
Much has been said and written about not changing the life styles and environment of the tribals and that it would be undesirable to uproot them from their habitat. There is some truth in this. At the same time, it is high time governments and NGOs paid attention to change the thinking of these people on issues like superstition, witchcraft and so on. Modern medical treatment and conventional education should be rushed to replace these harmful, traditional practices. The witch doctors and tantriks continued to have a field day because they remained the only alternatives to "guide" people in their problem and had connections in the right places. If Superintendent Batti was guilty, he must not be spared. Perhaps that would set an example to others.
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