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‘Witches’ no more: Women in MP’s Patidar villages take on the unfair social custom

‘Dakans’ (witches) exist in at least 12 Patidar-dominated villages of Rajgarh and Shajapur district of Madhya Pradesh, and are often discriminated against.

bhopal Updated: Jan 26, 2018 12:07 IST
Shruti Tomar
Shruti Tomar
Hindustan Times, Bhopal
Madhya Pradesh,Patidar,Patidar community
Youngsters in the villages have been organising discussions on ways to stop ‘dakan’, but the move has backfired.(Mujeeb Faruqui/HT Photo)

Khushboo Patidar is often told these days she has started talking too much. Her village elders preferred her silence. But the 16-year-old has had enough of them and their ways.

The teenager from Bhayana village in Madhya Pradesh’s Rajgarh district wants to know why her Patidar community branded her a ‘dakan’ (witch) the moment she was born.

Her mother gave her an explanation when she hit puberty, saying she had inherited the tag in accordance with a custom of the community.

“My mother told me she too was deemed a witch from birth and was seeking an answer to the same question for the last 40 years.”

Khushboo scoffs at the custom that has made her endure snide remarks and discrimination since childhood. Mocked as a ‘dakan’, not allowed to attend puja functions and weddings, and even prevented from eating spicy food, she has finally rebelled.

And, she isn’t alone in her rebellion. In November last year, Khushboo and more than 20 other young women of Rajgarh district branded as witches met superintendent of police Shimala Prasad to demand an end to this custom.

The fear of ‘dakan’ in MP villages
  • According to the community’s beliefs, a woman deemed a dakan can cast an evil eye, kill anyone by just looking at them, and destroy things by praising them.
  • Women fighting against the custom told the police it is prevalent in nine villages of Rajgarh — Pipliya Rasoda, Amlar, Bhilwadia, Karanwas, Padana, Magarana, Bhayana, Sandawta and Kodia Jarkar. In Shajapur, they identified Kadwala, Laharkheda and Uchod villages.

They told the police the ‘dakan custom’ was prevalent in at least 12 Patidar-dominated villages of Rajgarh and adjoining Shajapur district. Most Patidars in these villagers are farmers.

Police found after a survey that, even by conservative estimates, nearly 400 women had been declared ‘dakans’ in these villages.

Dakan stigma not for boys

No community elder knows when the ‘dakan’ custom started, but they know the rules. A girl born to a woman declared a ‘dakan’ too is deemed as one. However, a boy born to the same woman does not have to bear any such stigma.

Shivprasad Patidar, 52, of Khushboo’s village, explains why. “Who are we to decide what is wrong and what is right? We can’t change our customs as it would be an insult to our ancestors.”

Shivprasad has six sisters, all branded ‘dakans’. He cut off ties with them after their marriage, following an associated ‘dakan’ custom.

Witch-hunting shame
  • According to the National Crime Records Bureau, after Jharkhand and Odisha, MP registered the third highest number of murders (20) of women accused of practising witchcraft in 2015 and 2016. The number was 19 in 2016.
  • What the law says: There is no specific national-level legislation that penalises witch-hunting. Different Indian Penal Code sections related to murder, attempt to murder, causing hurt, rape, and outraging a woman’s modesty are among those invoked in such cases.
  • Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha are among states with laws to deal with the problem of witch-hunting.
  • The Prevention of Witch-Hunting Bill, 2016 was introduced (as private member bill) by BJP MP from Saharanpur, Raghav Lakhanpal, and is pending.
  • Woman activists for separate law in MP: Sarika Sinha, in-charge of the government-aided one-stop crises centre for women in Bhopal, said, “We are demanding a separate law because many harassed women have been driven to commit suicide. There is an urgent need to rectify this.”

A girl declared a ‘dakan’ sees her marriage prospects dwindle. “Many are married off to poor or elderly men, and widowers,” said a 20-year-old married woman deemed a ‘dakan’. She recently had a daughter and did not want to be named. She is determined her daughter will not inherit the tag.

Her elder brother said, “I feel very bad for my sister. More than a custom, it is a social evil. She has faced a lot of discrimination and wants to fight back. I am with her.”

Fighting back easier said than done

Nursing student Rekha Patidar, who lives with the tag, said, “I told my friends in hostel about this practice. They laughed and refused to believe me. Then they realised the gravity of the problem and came out in our support.”

Youngsters such as Khushboo and Rekha are among those who went to the police, ruffling quite a few feathers. Some community seniors forced to live with the tag are supporting them.

Kalabai Patidar, 50, of Uchod village in Shajapur, said, “I am not a dakan. People who call us dakan are the real dakans. I realised this late and will not bear this curse anymore.”

Community leaders had not anticipated this defiance. Pipliya Rasoda resident Amrutlal Patidar, a senior leader of the community, said, “People are unnecessarily politicising it. A solution is possible only through discussion among community members. It is wrong that women and girls are involving the police.”

The consequence of defiance

About three years ago, a group of Patidar youngsters opposed to the practice of ‘dakan’ organised a feast at Kadwala village and invited the community’s members for a discussion. Many came, but the move backfired.

“Women not deemed ‘dakans’ who went to the feast were branded as ‘dakans’. In one stroke, the number of ‘dakans’ in the area increased manifold,” said Bhayana farmer Vishnu Patidar.

“Vested interests in the community are not willing to stop this practice so we have decided to lodge complaints against them,” said Vishnu, whose mother and wife are considered ‘dakans’.

Police are treading cautiously. Rajgarh SP Prasad said, “I held a discussion with senior community leaders. They are very stubborn. We don’t want to resolve this by taking legal action because it will increase friction between the community’s members. We are trying to resolve it by community participation.”

First Published: Jan 26, 2018 08:06 IST