Case of Radha Chaudhary should not be treated as a stale incident. We cannot rule out possibility of such incidents occurring in the future
Often people belonging to the underprivileged communities suffer prejudices and become victim of extreme forms of violence. They are discriminated against, humiliated, compelled to live in isolation and even killed. Women have to bear the brunt of all this the most.
In 2010, Kalli Biswokarma was tortured for two days and was made to eat human waste. She was made to confess being a witch and she did to save her life. In 2014, Parvati Chaudhary, a 45 year old woman of Parsa, was beaten to death by villagers. She was accused of practicing witchcraft. And on March 8, this year Radha Chaudhary, a resident of Deukaliya, Kailali, was beaten for hours by Ram Bahadur Chaudhary in an allegation of practicing witchcraft. She was hospitalized for many days. She has been rehabilitated in her own community now.
This particular incident became a burning issue of discussion. It occupied a significant space in public domain. But just like any other incident, this one too is in the verge of becoming a history. The incident of Dukaliya reflects the social realities still lying in the core of our villages. Despite strict law, witchcraft allegation remains to be one of many social threats. Law seems ineffective because of which social protection has become a tough challenge. Social threat like that of witchcraft allegation has many influencing factors. Without identifying and addressing those factors, social protection cannot be guaranteed.
Three important factors drive cases of witchcraft allegations. First the belief system. Ram Bahadur claimed of being a true shaman on the basis of a dream he had on the night of Shivaratri, in which he claimed he was blessed by Lord Shiva. People believed in him. Such belief is built on fear. The belief grows stronger when there is mass acceptance, making it further entrenched and challenging all rationalities. Superstitions are beliefs and actions arising from irrationality. It is nerve wrecking to see how irrationality wins over rationality, solely because of mass acceptance. The relationship of agency and structure can be clearly understood in this case. This shows how one person can easily influence a society and how society makes the impact of that particular person bigger and stronger. Over the period of time, that person gains authority and control over others. Even people of great value and position are not spared by such belief system. It becomes too big to tackle.
The reluctance of police to file FIR, civil representatives demanding release of Ram Bahadur, reluctance of mayor and ward secretary to support the victim, all this shows to what extent people are engulfed by such belief. We should not let the belief “system” to get established. For this to happen, early intervention from responsible bodies is needed. Limited influence is easier to deal with than mass influence.
The second factor can be attributed to gendered values. In almost all ill beliefs the most vulnerable group becomes the target. In boksi pratha, generally women are accused of practicing witchcraft. Women are regarded as prone to possession. Women themselves fear other women. They are made responsible for spread of epidemics, natural calamities and death. Infertile women are accused of being witch, normally in the cases of illness among newborn babies. A research done in a village of Gujarat, India found that witches were convenient explanations for rising infant mortality rates and deaths from malaria, typhoid and cholera (Shima Yasmin, 2018). We rarely hear men accused of being a boksa. Normally women of teenage and above are accused of being witches.
Women are sanctioned for any deviance from social expectations, which includes following a cultural norm of subordination to men (Amoah 1987; Drucker-Brown 1993).
Radha, a former Kamlari (indentured child laborer) is pursuing her intermediate degree. She was targeted because she did not agree to pay homage to Ram Bahadur. Internalization of gendered values and gendered roles play a prominent role in such practices. Incidents related to witchcraft are the result of long practiced gendered roles. Because of such gendered values and roles Ram Bahadur was able to establish himself as a healer, create a group of confidants including women, and physically and sexually exploit women in the name of healing. Awareness, no matter how clichéd it sounds, is the solution. Education is the key. Awareness among women can have a great impact. Awareness program needs to involve women of the affected localities to make it more effective.
Victims of marginalization
Marginalization is the third factor. In many places around the world, people, especially women belonging to marginalized communities have often fallen prey to superstitious beliefs and practices. The case is similar in Nepal. Kalli Biswokarma, Parvati Chaudhary, and Radha Chaudhary all belong to marginalized communities. The peripheral position of marginalized communities makes it difficult for them to retaliate because of which they fall deeper into the pit of superstitions.
During 1998, in Ghana, Africa, 400 women alleged of witchcraft were thrown out of their village. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau more than 2,500 Indians have been chased, tortured and killed in witch hunts between 2000 and 2016. In Nepal too, incidents related to superstitions occur more in rural communities, where struggle for basic amenities are still existent.
Economic marginalization seems to be the hard hitting one. Social tension underlying witchcraft accusations can be linked to unequal incorporation of villages and regions into capitalist market systems (Parker, 2006). Efforts should be made to push the isolated communities forward. Skill based training and connection with market can help people uplift their economic status, which in turn will help them fight superstitions.
The case of Radha Chaudhary should not be treated as a stale incident. We cannot rule out probability of such incidents happening in the future. To minimize the chances, local bodies need be very alert, and all the factors influencing such incidents need to be equally addressed. Concentration in only one factor results in partial effectiveness. It demands a great deal of attention from all organizations, especially government, for development, education, economic prosperity and awareness.
The author writes on issues related to women and education