Into the darkness of superstitions:
• In May 2012, the government, in response to a question asked in the Lok Sabha, clarified that in the period 2008-2010, 528 women were murdered on the suspicion of being witches (daayans). Cases of beating and torture are not included in this.
• In July 2012, the National Commission for women reported that there are around 50-60 districts in different Indian states where exist, even today, such heinous practices such as branding women as daayans, insulting and humiliating them, parading them naked or killing them.
Fire of Tragic Darkness
One day, while on a visit to my village two years ago, an elderly woman aged 70-72 years from my neighborhood rushed into my house, all agitated, and hid in the corner under a bed kept in my room. Just as she entered she pressed her hands together and pleaded to me, "Son, I haven't done anything, please save me".
Before I could understand anything, I heard loud abuses from the alley in front of the old woman's house. When I came outside, I saw a dozen people with lathis hurling abuses and demanding to kick the old woman outside the house. All of them said that they would shave the woman's head, force her to eat excreta and only then talk any further.
Upon enquiring from someone in the crowd about what was going on, I was told that it had to do with something that happened that day at Virendra Sharma's sweet shop near the town square. The shop had a big oil-filled pan kept on a stove. "Bhagwanpur Wali" (the elderly woman) had apparently asked the cook if he was preparing something special for there seemed to be more oil in the pan than usual. Saying this she left, and soon thereafter the oil started splashing out of the pan and two people got blisters as the boiling oil burnt their hands and cheeks. According to him, "Bhagwanpur Wali" is a "daayan" and had done some black magic.
People were visibly agitated and charged up. I tried to pacify them but some of them started threatening me. At last I said, fine, I will call the police! Then people started dispersing all of a sudden. I warned them, in a loud voice, that if anything were to happen to this elderly woman, I would make sure you all end up in jail. After a while, everyone left from there. Some even abused me.
What material circumstances force people to rot and die in such tragic ignorance, that they can't even understand something as simple as the fact that if a wet pan, filled with oil is kept on a stove, water would naturally pop out once the oil starts boiling! An old woman declared as a "daayan", is made to suffer the punishment for their stupidity.
Due to sheer coincidence that day "Bhagwanpur Wali" was saved because of my intervention. But such reports where a woman is declared a "daayan", paraded naked in public, and forced to eat excreta or is murdered, are quite common.
When I returned home, the old woman held me and started crying and kept on repeating "Son, I haven't done anything". She was trembling with fear and even my eyes welled up with tears. I was so angry that I wanted to burn to death those people responsible for creating this notion of a "daayan".
All those 'guardians' of religion, tantriks, gurus, quacks etc., who spread these blind superstitions to maintain their business of patriarchy and Brahmanism, have also constructed the idea of a "daayan" as one such trick. Their centuries old agents in the society continue to propagate their evil and criminal tradition with full zeal even today. Nobody should put forth this argument that the myth of "daayan" is found in all societies from Asia to Africa to even Europe, so why question Brahmanism for this? All societies have their own Brahmanism(s) and they are same at a very basic level. They only manifest outwardly in different forms. To maintain the hegemony of a handful of the governing elite, such control mechanisms like otherworldly creatures, gods and religion, the ghastly notion of witches etc., are invented to keep the governed in perpetual slavery.
Venomous Pimps of Superstitions
Among these 'modern-day' pimps and avatars spreading superstition and ignorance are Vishal Bhardwaj and Ekta Kapoor. These unscrupulous hypocrites (ref: Vishal Bhardwaj's Makdi) would not have thought even once before getting into the business of making films like Ek thi daayan, about how this word, daayan, is loaded with a huge amount of suffering for the many victims who are abused by this horrible notion.
Although when you call someone a dukaandar (businessman), then you have to agree that profit is his sole dharma. But does someone take free poison while purchasing goods from a shop? If one has some awareness, he would never do so.
But then what else have Vishal Bhardwaj and Ekta Kapoor done through a movie such as "Ek thi daayan", other than strengthen the poison of superstitions, all with the excuse of providing 'entertainment'? It is aimed to further dent the conscience of the viewers steeped in ignorance, which ultimately is the biggest weapon required to maintain the status quo.
Someone might argue that Ekta Kapoor or Vishal Bhardwaj hasn't made such a film for the first time. Perhaps that is true. In the second decade of the 21st century when scientists around the globe are busy unlocking the secrets of the universe, not only Bollywood but even Hollywood films, are pre-occupied with manufacturing stories of ghosts or demons with full force. But compared to the Ramsay Brothers and many other horror films made till date, Vishal Bhardwaj and Ekta Kapoor's "Ek thi daayan" is far more criminal, particularly in the Indian context, also given the fact that it claims to provide some "entertainment". Some wicked person wrote a book called "Black Magic and daayan" (Mobius Trips by Mukul Sharma), and adapting a story from it, both these filmmakers exploited the superstitions prevalent in a largely illiterate society and made money off it. "A daayan begins her tantrik-customs after midnight; a daayan's feet are always pointing backwards; a daayan survives only by sacrificing or 'consuming' her most beloved child." These false notions are always present in the imagination of the educated and the uneducated people spread across villages or the cities.
High-Tech Indolence and Ignorance
Those in the village who were ready to beat up "Bhagwanpur Wali" after declaring her as 'daayan' were perhaps illiterate and ignorant. But then is the mindset of the educated in cities and metros any different? A few years ago, a gruesome incident from Ghaziabad, a supposedly High-Tech city, was brought to light. Three brothers, disturbed by some paranormal phenomena which they believed was affecting their lives, took the help of a tantrik. This tantrik, after performing some tantra mantra rites, declared their old mother to be a 'daayan' and on his advice, the sons beat up their old mother with chappals till she breathed her last. One cannot even imagine the sheer brutality and stupidity of all this. Moreover, one of these men was a Doctor and another an Engineer. Which means even education, that too in Science, couldn't clear the muck of superstition and ignorance from their minds.
But, what difference does all this make to Ekta Kapoors or Vishal Bhardwajs of the world? In fact, the prevalence and occurrence of such heinous tragedies is what makes the business more attractive for them. For as long as it strengthens the power of social and political elites, why would they want it to be any different? For someone who brought to light the superstition of 'chudail' through his film "Makdi",one wonders why did the "Bharadwaj" eventually overpower the "Vishal", that led him to present the lies of "Ek thi daayan" as the 'truth'? A lie and a superstition which was created to extend and establish the influence of patriarchial and brahminical power structure.
In this film, from naming the first character playing "daayan" as "daayana" to showing child sacrifice, to the hair of the witch carrying magical powers etc., all the standard rubbish stereotypes found in the mind of some extremely superstitious person, have been shown. The problem is that when such whimsical ideas are given a 'modern' treatment, then it has a more lethal effect than what it would have had ordinarily.
In the movie "Ek thi daayan", the "daayan", through her magical powers, enters the house of a high class family living in a metropolitan city. Though it remains a mystery where she lived before that - whether in Mumbai's Taj hotel or the White House of America....! Or whether she met young Bobo, who cuts her plait and destroys her, as a 'hero' before this or not? This is the same plait which she uses as a miraculous noose in the end. But did the miraculous noose and her entire illusory and spiritual power save the "daayan's" life? Her plait can be cut by the child Bobo with an ordinary knife. The dangerous and murderous"daayan" with all her power ends up becoming a mute spectator. Just like when in a village or a town, a helpless lower caste woman is declared as "daayan", her head is shaved, her teeth are smashed, she is forced to eat excreta, beaten and paraded naked in the village and sometimes even burnt to death. In both cases, the "daayan's" 'evil' and 'illusory' powers are unable to help her in any way!
The enemies of science
The question is, what sort of venom is this modern version of a 'daayan' and her 'tricks' going to further spread among those ignorant minds that subscribe to this sort of superstition? Say, what would a bigoted, frog-in-the-well, superstitious and irrational person think when he sees the head of ISRO spending hours clanging bells in temples before any important satellite launch? Anyone with basic intelligence can tell you that such examples only encourage and justify superstitions. In fact, I bet that many superstitious persons when challenged can point you towards these beacons of science, heads of ISRO like Madhavan Nair or Radhakrishnan, and claim that if they can successfully launch satellites after praying in temples, then we are just ensuring 'God's' decree when we disrobe a 'daayan' or humiliate her.
Movies such as Ek thi daayan in fact create a similar narrative as done by the ISRO chiefs, wherein all superstitious and bogus ideas are presented on the screen in some sort of a scientific and modern manner. The common viewer is presented with a somewhat 'real' face of a 'daayan'. This also is done with the justification that technology and science present something 'real' to the viewer, who has the notion of a daayan as a mere fiction/fantasy so far with no basis in reality. After all, even a superstitious person doesn't underestimate the 'power' of science. All the ignorant notions that these false ideas carry have been thoroughly exploited by Ekta Kapoor and Vishal Bharadwaj to make money. Such people have no concern for how these very notions are still the cause of the worst atrocities on women, particularly lower caste women. Why would the status-quoist ruling class bother to worry about all this after all? They would only be concerned about the problems that have to do with their own class.
The film reveals its true colors when one of the characters, who dismisses the idea of a witch as something psychological or pathological, is later shown to be killed due the evil powers of the daayan. This in effect means, that the one strong argument against superstitions i.e. of psychology is portrayed as a lost cause, shown to be defeated at the hands of superstition and irrationality. This clearly shows that these beasts greedy for money, Ekta Kapoor and Vishal Bharadwaj, have crossed all limits of shamelessness by making a movie which wants to keep the ignorant and illiterate masses in further delusion.
Why is the woman always the 'daayan'?
In fact, the movie 'Ek thi daayan' very clearly brings forth the location of Ekta Kapoor and Vishal Bharadwaj. The male protagonist of the movie is a magician, he only 'entertains' people, never 'harms' anybody. However, out of the three women protagonists, the portrayal of two of them as witches, the third as 'almost' one, is left as some sort of an open end for the audience. The depiction of the 'daayan' in the film is exactly the same as found among those who subscribe to superstitions. That is, she only harms. So, as a magician the man entertains, as a tantric he 'protects' or 'wards off' the tricks of the daayan. It is quite a curious thing that the woman becomes a black magic wielding, predatory witch whereas a man when doing 'magic' is a tantric, which translates as 'saviour/protector'.
Patriarchy and brahminism work in strange ways. No one asks why in this power play the biggest victims are always women? And before someone presents some odd example, one must add that why are these women always from the dalit or so-called lower castes?
So then, since neither Vishal Bharadwaj nor Ekta Kapur have the guts or the inclination to works towards eliminating this horrible evil that affects the masses, then what gives them the right to exploit such superstitions and make money off them? Do they not realize how powerful a medium cinema is today to influence public opinion and mindsets? And if they are aware of this, then are they doing all this intentionally?
It is quite likely that those crooked criminals with a hunger for power would have established and popularized notions such as witches etc., by exploiting the ignorance and illiteracy of the poor masses. They must have then invented myths or falsehoods to rob a woman who perhaps inherited wealth etc. And they later actively spread such myths among others. In the contemporary society, however, movies which promote status quo such as Ek thi daayan play this role.
The veil of politics
It isn't hidden from anyone how in the past years a lot of movies are being made to curtail free thought, spread superstitions, to marginalize women, increase communal polarization and spread communal hatred among people. And if some big right wing group has been financing all this, then it shouldn't be a matter of surprise. The ruling class politics has always been about strengthening religion, to further gender discrimination and spread superstitions. And since cinema is one such powerful medium that reaches the larger public, there is a lot of money spent to utilize this medium to further certain political agendas. Everyone knows how this was evident in the way America used cinema during the Cold War, and continues to do that even now.
The problem is that when one discusses the social aspect or impact of cinema, one is dismissed as a purist by the status quo-ists. They claim that cinema reflects the changing realities of the social structure and related phenomena, and the changes in society are what lead to the change in cinema. If we stick to our example of the 'daayan', then, can it be said that the entire society is in the grips of this superstition and wants to stay that way? Is there no voice against this superstition? Are rational and scientific ideas against such superstitions totally absent from our society? In the name of presenting the social reality, it is exactly such falsehoods which are propagated through that medium.
In fact, the argument that cinema only reflects society is a cunning one that allows these people to use the medium of arts and cinema to cover all their terrible acts they deploy to preserve the oppressive structure. Will any analysis of a given society emerge after looking at it only piecemeal? To see through this conspiracy of such criminals hell bent on perpetuating a certain orthodoxy/inertia among the masses, is not that difficult. One only has to read between the lines.
In the court of Madhumala Devi
There was a very refreshing piece of news a while ago from Bihar. Madhumala Devi, the head of Mithai village in Madhepura district had passed a decision that if anyone in that panchayat-run area was found calling a woman a 'daayan', they would be slapped with a fine of Rs. 2100. A village-dwelling, not-so-well educated, supposedly less 'modern' and poor Madhumala Devi reaches the position of a panchayat head after much struggle and passes this path breaking revolutionary decision. One the other hand, a well-educated, extremely wealthy, and 'very modern' Ekta Kapur and psychologically depraved Vishal Bharadwaj, further marginalize and oppress the so called daayan, a horrible idea that has emerged from the minds of the evil pandits. Both Madhumala Devi and the Kapoor-Bharadwaj duo used their respective 'positions' of power. But how does one compare their respective decisions? Shouldn't the Kapoor-Bharadwaj team be indicted and given a much harsher punishment than just the fine of Rs.2100 in Madhumala Devi's panchayat? If there are no laws to punish such people who make a business out of something that oppresses thousands of lower caste women and furthers the widespread ignorance among people, then I demand that the Indian government enact such a law, then arrest and throw people like Ekta Kapoor and Vishal Bharadwaj to rot in jails. They are no different than those quacks and tantriks etc., who mislead people and further the horrendous social evils.
Translated from Hindi by Saharsh Arya and Akshay Pathak.
(The original article in in Hindi can be read at: http://charwakshesh.blogspot.in/2013/05/blog-post.html)
Arvind Shesh, originally from Sitamarhi, Bihar, is Assistant Editor at Jansatta (Hindi daily) in Delhi.
Picture courtesy: the net.