Witchcraft – A Maldivian Cultnzan
What is witchcraft?
Working in the Social sector for long time as a human right activist has caught me by surprise about the social issues especially on protection of human rights. My curiosity to understand the Nepalese customary evils drove me to participate in a workshop organized by Society for Humanism (SOCH) Nepal. The workshop was entitled ‘Violence against women due to improper cultural practices of Nepal’. The workshop provided me ample opportunity to comprehend several social practices being followed in Nepal. Shocking to know, several customary practices existed in Nepal holds the key to violate the human rights, especially in the case of women.
Mr. Uttam Niraula, communication officer of International humanist and Ethical youth organization (IHEYO) who has been working actively against superstitions shared a bitter experience of witchcraft during his field visit in Dolakha District. He explained the bizarre incident of a grandson who chopped his own grandmother, aged 67, into 65 pieces only because he dreamed his widow grandmother being a witch. Nothing came to his conscious mind, neither his ethics nor her decades long caring, to stop him from killing his innocent grandmother just because of deeply rooted superstitious belief. This is just an example; there are several issues of women being victimized due to such beliefs and customary practices that play the role of catalyst to suppress the women. Several cultural practices such as Dowry and Chaupadi are killing women ruthlessly. On the other hand, Nepali society prides itself being a male dominated, restoring various customs which intentionally created to persecute women.
The workshop stroke on my mind; why witch hunting is still alive? A survey by SOCH Nepal’s illustrates that more than dozen women are being killed each year accusing witch! But why is repeatedly happening every year? What is the reason behind accusing someone being a witch?
I tried to trace out the chronological events of witchcraft. Normally, unmentioned record is carried out via myth and religion. So, I decided to find out how witchcraft is explained in religious testimonies.
In Hinduism, Atharva Veda, has mentioned witchcraft as a means to eliminate enemies and win the loved one.
In Islam: It is also called Daine and Tonhi, which describes witch as those people who can see the image of ‘shadow world’.
In Christianity: It is also called witch, white witch or Wiccan. In Islam witchcraft is also a positive connotation. In various texts witchcraft is taken as a character of fun.
Buddhism and Jainism: There is no provision of witchcraft on those religions because they are formed by the liberalists.
Witchcraft in various cultures: The misconception of witchcraft also exists in indigenous people of Australia (Aborigines), New Zealanders indigenous people (Mauri) denotes witch as ‘Makutu’. Japanese society denotes witch positively. Chinese people consider witchcraft as an art of attracting others. Philippine people pronounce witch a ‘Mankukulam’, Papua Negaunee people pronounce ‘Subangi’. Ridiculously, in various African societies including Nigeria, some newly born babies are also accused of witch. They are tortured by local Christian priests; priests often blackmail the parents to pay huge sum to heal the children. (Wikipedia)
In the overall, every religion defines witchcraft as a miraculous art of someone either to harm or gain benefit from others. Especially witches are believed to be able to harm enemies by Mantras or Tantra. They are believed to possess supernatural power. With reference to all the research and data, I came to the conclusion that all the people of the different religions have almost same superstitious belief regarding the witchcraft which cannot be proved scientifically.
Perhaps, I might be too critical, but sometimes I question – if the witch can harm the enemies using their chanting methods, there is no reason to keep the large numbers of army for the boarder securities! There can be a battalion of witches. I also applied the obtrusive interview technique with so called political leaders. But unfortunately, they still believe on witchcraft. A leader told me, “I cannot say I have seen a lady witch at my village, she has some qualities to harm human and animals, but I still do not know how she could do so. She also believe if the witch see the food, food is considered Chokha lageko(food cannot supposed to eat). It has believed that someone eat that food it might damage the health of eater’. I could not say anything except ‘Are You Sure?’
People still do not think scientifically. Critical thinking is lacking on people’s mindset. Probably it is the reason of lack of modern education. Education system of many countries especially education of developing country like Nepal has greatly influence by the superstition. So that people believe on orthodox cultural practices that degrade human dignity. That could be reason, many people still do not believe that the concept of witchcraft is only concept; it is just a figment of the imagination.
But there might be some reason that parents inject the idea of witchcraft to control children through fear. Unfortunately, the tool to control children deeply roots into the mindset, ultimately that psychology plays role to even kill a person. I presume this might be the very reason that dozens of women are sacrificed annually due to false belief on witchcraft among general people. Thus, we have serious flaw in our education system. Various fearing stories about witch, ghosts, evils and evil deeds badly roots on the mindset of a young child that finally leads to crime in future. Thus the learning at child matters for whole life. A famous anthropologist G.H. Mead says, the knowledge of first 5 years lasts for last 50 years of Human. Does such education really need to provide to the student? Orthodox education does help to create fear on the people’s mind.
Anthropologists also explain religion as a means of bound the society. Historically, religion has ruled the society since the very beginning of modern calendars. It has only been one hundred fifty years; science is challenging the regime of religion. Movement of enlighten, French revolution, renaissance is the major example to fit into it. That challenge against regime of religion has significantly advanced the knowledge and humanity. Witchcraft is also outcome of religious faith which can be proved tracing back to the pre-religious society. At that time, women played crucial role to lead the society. Gradually the religion emerged by granting value only to man. Women are considered a worthless being in almost every religion. Similarly, as a major religion, Hindu mythology put women in the subordinated position. It says women, dalit and dholak (Drum) are considered the things that need to be beaten for keeping control over them. Christianity considers birth of women as a sin.
There are some cases which are taken from the media about the violence on witchcraft.
Witchcraft prevails in society due to political interest also. Politically powerful person tag those whoever dares to stand against them, so as to kick them out of the society. This kind of act makes those so called elite group to gain political strength. Ridiculously, National Code of Nepal 1920 B.S, clearly mentioned the ideas to torture the accused witch which was eventually eradicated by 1997’s National Code. The former code re-victimizes the victim instead of penalized propitiator. The code gave the order to society to feed human shit to the victim which was unbeleivable.
There are some incidences of violence on witchcraft are as follows:
Women of Inaruwa named Samkhu Devi on 28 Nov 2011 accused witch by her brother in law. She was attacked by the Sharp weapons (Khukuri) on her neck by accusing that she killed his mother and brother three years ago. She was blamed of using tantric mantra to kill his family. (Annapurna Post 2011)
Similarly, a woman from Parsa named Gauridevi Shah was tortured mercilessly on 26 April, 2011. In the Muluki Ain there is provision that, if a person accuse as witchcraft, the propitiator will penalized by two year imprisonment and 25 thousands fine. Due to lack of awareness of the punishment such witchcraft tortures still subsists the society. Similarly, the implementation of the existing law is not so strong which leads to encourage crime. (Kantipur 2011)
Likewise, old woman named Angbohang of Taplejung district was accused being a witch. She was physical tortured by beating ruthlessly inside her home on27 April,2011. People who were involved of beating such an old woman were age between 13 to 27 years. One of the propitiator said, we were chasing the black cat, the cat went inside her home so that they accused her witch. This one example illustrates how superstition gives physical and mental torture to the people. How old unmarried women can accuse witch due to poverty? (Kantipur 2011)
Recently, in Gorkha District, an old man named Gothe Sarki, aged 58 years was killed by using axe by accusing witch on 13 March, 2012. (Kantipur Daily).
Similar incident took place in Nepalgung on18 July, 2011, old man named Sundar Lal Tharu was killed by the villagers by accusing witchcraft. He was tortured harshly that led to death during treatment at Nepalgung Teaching Hospital. These are just a few examples which were broadcasted in the media. There are many people who do not have access on media are suffering every day by the family members and societies by accusing witch. (Kantipur Daily)
There are several incidences are found of witchcraft that shamans accuse someone of being witch for their personal interest. Recently, in Chitwan, a woman was accused as witch by the shamans. She was beaten and burn to death by superstitious people. Shaman was proud of killing ‘witch’ at first. But, finally he confessed in police station that he is not shaman at all. He confessed that, he himself knows nothing about shamanism but other people made him shaman. This incident indicates that, religious belief is the main cause of witchcraft. (Kantipur daily)
The above incidence proves that the witchcraft accusation was taken place in the society due to the personal interest and superstitious belief. Some people accuse witch to protect their profession and others accuse witch due to superstition.
National Crime Bureau shows that about 150 to 200 women are being killed due to witchcraft. Among them about 50/60 women are being killed each year only in Jharkhand state. More than 25 hundred women are killed in past 15 years of Indian history. All the killing is directly, indirectly inspired by religion. (National Crime Bureau, India)
Normally women with following features are porn to be victim of witchcraft: Poor, widow, barren, low caste, physically ‘ugly’, obstacle of elite person, enemy of powerful person, old, and so on. In Hinduism, goddess Parbati (wife of lord Shiva) is considered as a main witch. It is believed that all witches are influenced by Parbati. But, in reality, only poor people are accused of witch. No rich and powerful wife has been victim of this cult.
Not only witchcraft, all degradation of women rights started from the inception of patriarchy. Anthropologist claims that matrilineal society existed in the ancient period. At that phase women were leading the family as a head. Women were the decision maker. But in patriarchy, if women try to come into decision making power, she might be victim of various improper cultures. She might be tagged of being vulgar too. Some Hindu religious leaders claim that women are worshipped as a goddess. They are considering as a source of power. But there is no any statehood run by women in Hinduism, how could that be the example of power when all the decision is taken by men. The culture of living goddess ‘Kumari’ is also an example. If we compare the duties of Kumari that directly contradict with UN declaration of Child Rights signed by Nepal too. Also women do not need to be worshipped but need equal rights to man.
People who are accused as witch are given the physical and psychological tortures and sometimes leading to death. The physical torture includes cruelly beating with stick, fed human excreta, sometimes burn with hot spoons in the different part of the body, verbal assault publicly, circle village making naked. Psychological tortures includes ignore form the family and members from the society. The people who are doubted witchcraft do not allowed even to touch small kids due to having superstition that if they touch the baby they will fall a sick. Sometimes the witch-doctor including villagers torture physically and mentally to victim to compel her to confess that she is a witch. There will be no option for victim to escape from immediate torture except agreeing to the so called witch-doctor.
The traumatic impact of such bad experiences can be seen in the lives of victim’s family members. Often the family members get tortured to leave the community and home in where they are residing for generations. Sometimes that leads to psychological tortures to the family members because they have the mental attachment with victim, home and community where they are living since long time. The victims also lose the self-respect due to the bad behavior form the community. Several cases are found that family members also abandoned the accused ones. Many victims suffer from mental disorder due to torture and abundance from family members; they even commit the suicide.
The commitment of the government to uplift the women’s right through the promulgation of the local laws and ratification of international laws like as CEDAW has marked question to the government for not fulfilling its commitment for protecting human rights. What is the meaning of showing commitment on international treaties? The government of Nepal does not make initiation to implement in the reality. If the government signs the international treaties, they should create the environment in where no one needs to feel torture in the name of culture and tradition.
Violence against women has been declared an illegal act. Violence is punishable by law in Nepal. Although the country has promulgate laws and different provisions for women rights in according to the Country’s Interim Constitution, Part 3 ‘Fundamental Right’, Article 20 ‘Rights of Women’ explains that “no one shall be discriminated in any form merely for being a woman and no physical, mental or any other form of violence shall be inflicted to any woman, and such an act shall be punishable by law“. Unfortunately, there is still no specific law especially criminalizing propitiator who accuses of witchcraft. Many people are being torture almost every day due to lack of effective laws.
Government has assured the equal human rights to all in the constitution but if we see the execution part, it is hardly found implemented. Justice is not accessible to the victims. They cannot afford the legal treatment in Nepal due to high charge of lawyer. There is no provision of special court to similar victims. Justice and freedom is become commodity who can afford it get it who cannot do not get. Long struggle for feminist movement resulted to form National Women Commission (NWC), but that seems functionless due to various constrains. Even though government formed NWC but it is reluctant to make constitutional body. It means state is not yet serious about protection and empowerment of women. On other hand political parties are just catching the sentiment of women’s participation till there is no role of decision making. But, it is hard to find 3% participation of women in decision making in the policy level in Nepal. Even though there are many women members in parliament, they are made speechless by their own political parties. Political parties vow for participation and empowerment of women. On the contrary, they could not speak against improper cultural practices which affect the rights of women. Kumari Cult can be a major example.
Kumari Cult is associated to sentiment Newar community. They could not speak against that practice even though it is violating the child rights. Politicians may lose vote if they speak truth. That small child is not allowed to go to school, hospital, not allowed to speak to general people, buffalos are sacrificed in front of her that makes pond of blood under her foot. Political parties could not eliminate the culture even though that is harmful to human civilization especially against child rights. The government once stopped the grant that had been providing since long time. But the Newar community came strongly against the decision by several protests. Eventually, government of Nepal compelled to grants the donation for promotion of cult which is violating child right. In one hand, government is being able to provide basic fundamental rights; on the other hand they are compelled to invest money for such practice that degrades human right.
Furthermore, accusation of witchcraft is also due to the economic vulnerability of the people. Interesting to know, it is never found in the society the rich people are being accused witch. This is might be their strong economic status which can protect themselves from the accusation of witch.
Similar to witchcraft, human right defenders are also attacked several times by the people who are defending the witchcraft for their personal benefit. In accordance to the report of WOREC Nepal, human right defenders are threatened and given physical and mental torture by the people who want to protect customary practices in the various part of country. Even though, they are constantly being attacked for raising their voice against such customary evils, they are making continuous effort for the betterment of the society,. The temptations to maintain the social status, people are ready to attack.
The social activists are significantly working for the protection of human rights and freedom. Unfortunately, human right and freedom has become the subject to discourse rather than making effort for reduction of human rights violation. So, everyone should think about the possible reduction by the activities rather that only become limit on the workshops and seminars. This is true, the amount of money that had spent for conducting workshop and seminars was invested on reduction of violence, and the society has already changed dramatically. Every people including political leaders and social leader are being concentrated on speech rather than action so that many people are suffering social eveils.
Furthermore, the several laws were promulgated for the protection of human rights and freedom. Unfortunately, the laws are greatly influenced by the religion and superstition. So that such laws which are influenced by religious superstition should be modified. The improper customary practices such chaupadi, chui pratha that violates the individual privacy should be abolished. The Gupha Rakhne pratha and Kumari cult that are against the child right should be eliminated whether the newar community has taken the gupha rakhne as a means of education.
Being a Human right activist, I pride myself there are many people like me who are raising their voices against such bad practices. Not doing any care about the possibilities of attacking from the various communal groups by raising voices against their cultures. Unless there will be no change without the voice people have to put life in danger. Still some people argue that they are following such practices to provide educations to their children. Newar community argues that they are following their culture to provide the sex education to the teenage girls. What is the reason behind the education only giving to the girl? This is good they have giving the education to their daughters but what are the reasons of giving the education putting in the dark room? Why is there discrimination between girls and boys?
I salute to those human rights activists and people who are for the society beyond having risk in their personal life. Several demonstrations were took place in the society for social change. Yoga Maya and her follower plunged into the Narayani River to give ultimatum against sati pratha which abolished after long time of their death. They scarified their life for the transformation of the society. Some people who are ready to sacrifice even their life and others are promoting their activities against human rights. Unfortunately, many people lost their life for the benefit of the societies; the government could not able to promulgate effective laws for protecting human right violence yet. (WOREC 2010)
Sometimes such dedications of the people for the social change add extra energy on me. People used to say that people of the modern societies are being materialistic so that they do not care about the societies. But there are many examples which prove human being of the modern societies still doing many activities for social benefit. Plunging into water of Yogamaya and her follower is one of the best examples of caring society. Not only Yogamaya, there are many people who are working against social evils putting the life in the danger such as Taslima Nasrin, a human right activist of Bangladesh has been working for the change of the society even she must leave her own country. She has been fighting against the evils of the Muslim religion that violet the women rights. Living in exile, she has continuously contributing the society.
Scientists already proved that the universe is created by the big bang theory. Unfortunately, the religious fundamentalist keep on arguing the universe is created by their god. Surprisingly the scientific invention that made our society so easy and comfortable and already proved that universe is guided by the big bang theory. To protect and promote their religious superstition, they are spreading orthodox believe which do not have scientific ground to prove. They are even promoting their religion by giving money to the poor people that is against the philosophy of the secular country. As a free thinker, I do believe on the fact which can be scientifically tested and re-tested.
It is good to know that the National Women Commission has already drafted the bill against witchcraft even though there is no certainty when the act will be promulgated.
Kantipur 2068, Boksi aaropma Jethajudwara prahar
Kantipur 2068, Boksi ko aarop ma arko amanabiya yatana
Kantipur 2068, Boksi aarop ma kutpit
CEDAW-2004, Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women
Interim Constitution 2063, fundamental right-article 20
SOCH bulletin, 2010, Yekkasau Shatabdima Madhyayug Barbarata
WOREC 2010, 100th International working women day- 8th March 2010