Justice a distant dream for these ‘witches’
BHILWARA: The wrinkled face of Mangi Bai Kumawat doesn’t twitch anymore as she recounts the horrors of the day in 2014 when she was accused of being a daayan or witch and branded with red-hot iron rods.
Instead, a forlorn expression clouds the face of the elderly lady who, like many other women in Bhilwara district of Rajasthan, has little hope of getting justice.
Bhilwara has recorded most number of witch-hunting cases over the years in the state. Many cases were pending in courts and the accused were out of jail.
“Some of them held me forcibly while the others branded my hands, abdomen and ... with rods. They called me a witch and told me to get out of the village,” Mangi Bai said and showed the scars.
Since the attack occurred before the 2015 Rajasthan anti-witch-hunting legislation was introduced, her case in court doesn’t mention that she was branded a witch and cast out of the village.
Jagdish Damami lost his mother Prem Devi in 2010 after she was stoned to death by villagers who accused her of being a witch. “My mother went to work as a labourer at a ceremony of upper-caste people. After the function she asked for payment. Instead, they accused her of being a witch; took her near the edge of the village and stoned her to death,” he said.
He alleged that the killers usurped her property later. Jagdish and his brother haven’t been able to return to their village. “The property has been occupied by families of the people who killed my mother and we can’t go back home,” he said.
Most often the victims are widows or women with no male relatives to look after them. As a result, villagers connive with local ascetics to brand them witches and usurp their property.
But not all are defenceless without any family support. Bholi Devi was branded a witch in Dariba 12 years ago and a panchayat attended by community elders of three villages decided that she must leave the place for good. Now, Bholi Devi and her family live in Bhilwara city. They were forced to leave and sell their ancestral home in Dariba.
Her 33-year-old daughter-in-law, Hemlata Bishnoi, wonders why only women are called as daayans. “Why can’t men be ghosts or wizards?”
Men are not spared too, in case they tried to help a ‘witch’. A decade ago, village sarpanch Banshi Kumawat helped a distant relative, Gulabi Bai Kumawat, who was called a witch and her property usurped in Borda village. After 11 years, he was still visiting the courts.
“I had to sell 32 bighas of my land to meet the expense of court cases but this woman hasn’t got justice yet,” said Banshi, pointing at a 95-year-old frail veiled figure.
The 66-year-old Banshi said he would write to the government. “I will request the chief minister to either help us get justice or to give permission for euthanasia for both of us because this is also a slow death that we have been dying for the past 11 years.”