By LB THAPA FOR ONTOTHEROAD.COM

In the recent past Dhegani Mahato, 40, was burned alive in Bagauda, Chitwan. She was accused of witchcraft and using evil magical powers. First, she was beaten up with sticks, doused with kerosene and then the crowd set her on fire. When Dhegani Mahato was being burned alive, her 9-year old daughter looked at her mother helplessly.

Nepalese women are still suffering from several discriminatory practices. In fact law has guaranteed them equal rights, but such laws are only limited in the book. They are tortured harassed, dragged, raped and sometimes even beaten to death on various charges one being the witchcraft.

This is 21st century and the world has taken a quantum leap of development. But most unfortunately there are still a lot many people in our country who live with the belief that there live spirits, ghosts, and witches.

Media is also replete with the news of women beaten up for practicing witchcraft. There are many villages in the country where the light of education has not reached and the people are under the impression of superstition. Quite often old, weak and single woman are targeted and blamed for the practice of witchcraft.

Devi Ram Dhamala, traditional healer. 59 years old. Traditional healers often use extreme verbal and physical abuse to heal young girls who are ill during menstruation or even otherwise, believing they are possessed by evil spirit. Surkhet district, Nepal. Photo: Local Nepal Today
A young girl was beaten for practicing witchcraft and troubling the local people. Photo: Local Nepal Today
An unidentified woman was locked in a cage on charges of witchcraft. Photo:theoslotimes.com

Such women are unable to defend themselves and become an easy object to be tortured by the villagers. Sometimes the alleged witches are forced to eat or forcefully fed human excreta. On many occasions, the angry mob turned violent and took the lives of the victims. Now and then media reports such embarrassing news.

It highlights the gravity of the problem that demands urgent action without further delay. It is truly unfortunate that there are people still continue to engage in medieval practices. Despite much hue and cry, the concerned authority has still not woken up from its slumber.

In a recent past, Suk Bahadur Saru, 51, a local resident of Mityal VDC Palpa was accused of practicing witchcraft and troubling local people and their livestock. The local village court did also confirm his crime. Then what! The crowd lynched man to death. Later, Suk Bahadur Saru’s body was thrown from a cliff to conceal the crime.

In another incident Dik Bahadur Bhujel of Karmaiya VDC, Sarlahi, killed Goma Devi Singdali, 70 and Ratna Maya Subedi, 60. He killed them with a large knife thinking of duo spelled him to suffer from a stomach pain that lasted for three weeks. It sounds ridiculous but it is true.

Here is yet another shocking revelation. This incident took place in 2001 in Simardahi where then VDC president Nawal Kishore Sahani hired Ram Kripal Pandit (Indian national) and asked him to identify witches in his village.

For the purpose, Sahani decreed all village women to assemble at one place for the Witch Identification Parade. Meanwhile, some clever villagers smelled rat with Sahani’s intention. They stood against Sahnai and asked him to release their wives or they would inform the police. Hence, the idea of parading women for the identification of witches was dropped.

It is even more shocking when such incident happen in the heart of Kathmandu, the capital city. Saraswati Adhikari, 27, living in Maitidevi, Kathmandu, was tortured by a shaman and her husband, thinking of her a witch.

They flogged her so badly that by the time she was brought to Bir Hospital, she was almost dead. Eventually she breathed her last before she was taken to the ICU.

Such inhuman activities are of course the result of illiteracy, superstition and poverty. On top, weak implementation of law is also responsible to a great deal. Had these perpetrators afraid of the legal punishment, they would have never executed such a heinous act against women.

First thing is that Nepali law against such offenders who torture women in the name of practicing witchcraft is very weak. Moreover, such laws are merely confined within the law book, never adequately implemented.  

It has already been explained by several psychologists that ghosts and spirit do exits only in the weak minds. They have no existence in real life. Dr Biswombandhu Sharma, Nepal’s leading psychologist, has said that only those people who are mentally weak do believe in the spirits and ghosts. Such stuff is the creation of a weak mind.

A healthy brain is strong and doesn’t come under any such influence. “Many times it happens with the people when they are not ready to accept bad happenings with them. They simply blame others for their misfortunes. This give birth to superstitions” added Sharma.

Let’s not forget that if a person’s body dysfunction, for this, nothing else but only his body is responsible. Such physical ailments, if someone claims to treat through a litany of spells, it is nothing but only superstition.

The truth is that all physical troubles need medical treatment to get rid of them. There are some people in our society involved in some kind of shamanic practice. They take the advantage of gullible people and make them believe that a witch or a spirit is behind their miseries and malfunction.

In a country like Nepal where unemployment is so high, these illiterate shamans find it an effortless way to make a living.

Normally it is experienced that mental related illness mostly attacks those women who are physically and mentally weaker. Hence, at times we see some women exhibiting strange behavior beyond one’s comprehension.

For this reason if any women undergoes through such hysteria or convulsion, it is nothing but a kind of mental illness. Whenever a symptom of such illness is seen in any woman, the best thing is to take her to the psychologist.

A regular treatment and family support can soon make her strong enough to fight back the weaknesses. But if time is wasted by taking her to a shaman, her illness will only turn bad to worse.

So, before it is too late the patient must be taken a psychologist’s therapy for a period of time. The family members of the patient must have patience, because a recovery from mental illness takes time. It is not like taking a paracetamole and fever has gone.

This is so unfortunate to see that there are several shamans and fortune tellers sit in front of Bir Hospital and run their shamanic business without any obstacle. The concerned authority and the civic society have never shown their objection against this practice.

By allowing them to continue their business, we have promoted superstitious practices. These shamans try to convince the relatives of the patients for taking their services. They claim that the patient can’t be cured by any doctors or medicines as he/she has become the victim of a witch or a spirit.

Similarly, astrologers sitting on the pavement, claim to read the present, the past and the future and make predictions merely looking at the faces of the people. First of all, such masquerades must be banned sitting on the pavement and exploiting people.    

61-year-old Man Maya Angbohang was beaten black and blue by a group of local youth at her residence in Taplejung after accusing her of being a witch in Photo: Travel News Nepal
This woman turned unconscious after her feet were pierced with sharp needles. Photo: alaiwahwordpress.com

Most of the violent cases of witchcraft have been reported from Mahotari, Dhanusa, and Sarlahi. Perhaps many people don’t know about a temple called Son Mai Temple. It lies in Jaleswor district headquarters of Mahotrari.

Local people say that every year witches and spirits converge here in large number. This is a kind of annual get-together of all witches and spirits. The local authority must restrict to organize such practice based on superstition.

In fact ignorance, superstition, illiteracy, and poverty are responsible to encourage the cases of witchcrafts against women at large, but at the same time weak legal enforcement is also responsible for spreading violence against women. To deal with such cases efficiently, the country should have stringent laws against the perpetrators. Then strict implementation of the law is even more important.

Only to make stringent laws is not enough unless they are properly enforced. If the perpetrators are dealt with strict manner others would think twice before taking any action against the poor women. The woman empowerment is not possible unless violence against them is completely eradicated from our society.   

LB Thapa, the blogger

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