Witches exorcised with Bajrang Dal help

From Tanushree Gangopadhyay
D H News Service

Rajasthan despite a Gujarat High Court order banning atrocities committed on them.

The saffron government's dilemma over the continuance with this abhorrent centuries-old abhorent tradition of witch hunting was protected by over 100 Bajrang Dal activists who formed a parallel para military force to counter any police action on November 11.

The Gujarat government does not seem inclined to a positive disposal of the litigation the PUCL had filed in 1998. ''No hearing has been held so far and neither have the accused been arrested '', according to Sophia Khan one of the petitioners. The court merely gives interim orders every year to ensure no atrocities are committed.Ms Khan of Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, was livid with the government's appeasement of the saffron reactionary forces which in effect enabled the promotion of such practices and perpetuated archaic practices which further strengthened patriarchy. The government also released water from the Meshwo dam to fill the Nagdhara kund to give credence to the abhorrent tradition practiced annually on the 14th phase of the waxing moon on the Gujarati calendar of Kartik when the famed fair is held here.. The 'magical powers' of the water in the kund supposedly aids the exorcism.

The Durga Vahini and Bajrang Dal were infuriated with the Collectorate's special bathing arrangements for women at the Nagdhara kund which they felt deprived the men from participating in the witch hunting.Gujarat Durga Vahini President Mala Raval , also the daughter of the Shamlaji temple head priest was particularly enraged as such modification ''would put an end to the mela famed for the bath in the Nagdhara kund and the centuries old traditions.'' Her brother the sarpanch and a temple trustee added to her concerns, which he felt would put an end to the temple's revenue and the village on the National Highway No 8 whose survival was depen dant on the famed Kartiki purnima fair. Not much has changed this year apart from the elimination of male Bhuvas (witch doctor) and their atrocities on the women declared witches even as we approach the Millenium. Female Bhuvas have gained prominence here.

Sharda Mackwana, a newly-married tribal woman was being exoricised by a female Bhuva who had accompanied the family from a village in Dahod district.

''She is facing problems in her marital life'', the female Bhuva told Deccan Herald. The girl accompanied by her brother's wife aided the Bhuva in splashing water of the Nagdhara kund on the woman who as screaming and wailing.

'' It is not my sister-in-law but the witch which has possessed her who is screaching,'' her sister-in-law tried to explain . The Nagdhara waters is the only cure for Puniben Baria who claimed that her sister-in-law possesses her periodically.

Apparently some property dispute was the cause of the 'possession 'of the dead woman. But Puni and many others who this corrospendant met were happy at the special gender based arrangement made, which they said ,avoided the ''male gaze''. For the tribals steeped in superstition the Shamlaji fair has an important bearing in their lives . Unless the government steps up its medical health services, education, such practices will never die. The ostentatious reasons for branding women witches are infertility, menopause, matrimonial problems, property disputes, and other related socio-economic problems.

For tribals in the neighbouring districts of Rajasthan and Gujarat , whose bondage with the area is not only witchcraft but also a market place and the meeting ground for matrimonial partners, cannot think of any alternative. Sabarkantha district Collector was optimistic that such traditions could not survive with modernism.

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