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Banamati & Chetabadi
In Andhra Pradesh
According to K.S. Singh, former Director-General of the Anthropological Survey of India and author-editor of the Peoples of India Project, the advent of witchcraft in India probably coincided with the arrival of the colonial rulers. The local people had a larger view of Shamanism (the world of good and evil spirits), but with European influence it began to get identified with black magic, white magic and witchcraft. Women were regarded as healers and granted powers in Shamanism, he said. In his own observation of tribal societies, mostly in Bihar, the majority of witches killed were women and some 30 per cent were men, Singh said. Entire families were wiped out in some areas. Greed for property was one of the main reasons for witch-killing, he said. The struggle for gender equality had also led to various forms of insecurities in village communities, according to Singh. When family members intervened, they were most often killed along with the branded women. Singh said that tribal cosmology was explicit in its reference to women being trained as witches. The Santhals, he said, were major "witch-killers" and their witches were often women.
General claims of the People:
- Stones are hurled from nowhere on top of the roofs, which is considered as a game of ghosts or gods.
- "Blood" in the coconut as a de-possessor and flowers revealing that the person is cured
- Flames in the house
- Sudden burning down of clothes
- Cots/Beds turning upside down
- Beds getting wet
- Talking Dolls as a symbol of ghost talking through the doll
- Inflicting pain on others by piercing the dolls
- Painless body piercing
- Swallowing fire and rubbing fire on the body
- Manthrik revealing that an egg without yolk meaning that a person is possessed
- Murmuring in an unknown language revealing that a person is possessed
- Howling in the night
- Manthrik displaying blood without a wound
- Materializing fire by pouring water
- Person suffering from Epilepsy, Malaria or developmentally delayed branded as being possessed.
First Reaction of the Angry Mob:
The first reaction is the angry villagers or mob is to tie down the person who is branded as a "sorcerer" by the Manthrik and pull his or teeth and tongue so as to stop allowing the mantras to be chanted. In some cases the persons are beaten, burned or beheaded.
Ill health in the remotest villages where little or no medical aid reaches is the prime cause for people to claim or believe in banamathi or chetabadi. This cashed on Manthriks or Voodoo doctors who try to create village disintegration by creating ruckus within the families and communities. They instigate the mob towards taking extreme steps against the innocent.
Atheist Centre’s Efforts:
- Investigating the claims of Banamati and Chatabadi
- Open challenge to Mantriks or Witch Doctors
- Investigation Team of doctors, psychiatrists, hypnotists, magicians, mimicry & ventriloquists, police, media personnel, social workers etc. visiting the affected villages
- Public Awareness Meeting along with interactive Magic shows, hypnotism, ventriloquism etc., with the communities where the incidents occurred.
- Telecast of the awareness campaigns through print and electronic media.
- Conducting science exhibitions to promote scientific temper and debunking superstitious beliefs
- Medical Awareness Campaigns through weekly medical lecture series
- Medical Science Exhibition
- Publication of book and articles
- Science for Villages Programs which were undertaken in 100 Villages through Bharata Jana Gyana Vigyna Jatha (BHGVJ)
- Main target group women, youth, disabled and elderly and community in general.
The Indian government is reportedly considering a proposal to declare all forms of witchcraft illegal to prevent a practice that has killed more than 2,500 women in the last 16 years.
The idea is to put in place a new law that would make witchcraft a social crime. Crimes related to witchcraft - like human sacrifice and witch-hunting - are currently tried under certain laws but there is no bar on the practice of necromancy and Voodoo. The home ministry is now drafting a law that would be sent to the law ministry for clearance. Once cleared by the law ministry, the draft would be sent to state governments for suggestions. The central government has moved to declare witchcraft illegal after the UN expressed concern at the number of murders ascribed to witch-hunting.
The UN also released figures of what is said were the victims of witchcraft and black magic around the world. The world body has named India along with countries in Africa, Asia and South America as a high-incidence zone for witchcraft related killings.
According to official figures, 2,556 women were branded as witches and killed in India between 1987 and 2003. The figure was around 4,000 collectively for Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Australia between 1999 and 2003. There were no specific figures for Africa and South America because almost all cases of witchcraft deaths happened in remote places and went unreported. In India, the highest incidence of witchcraft-related crimes occurred in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh. According to the official sources, the West Bengal government has called a meeting of district officials on August 3rd, 2003 to discuss the proposed law to ban witchcraft.
It is most likely that cases of witch-killing and persecution of women and innocent gullible will continue as long as economic inequities and neglect of the health care infrastructure continues. The reluctance on the part of both the community and the law-enforcers to see the killings of these hapless people in particular women as blatant murder points to collusion among various elements to keep women at the lowest rung of society.