Bewitched: Do witchcraft and cinema influence witch-hunts ?
The world of witchcraft has both fascinated and repulsed generation after generation of believers and sceptics, and the portrayal of both good and evil witches in popular cinema and media has served to highlight both positive and negative aspects of the culture. Every part of the world possesses its own unique “brand” of witchcraft and India, with its culture of Daayans and Chudails [both are names for women with apparently supernatural powers], also has its own superstitions regarding the mostly negative attributes of these so-called evil women. While the prevalence of occult, witchcraft and supernatural-themed films and television serials has resulted in the modern generation’s interest in the “unknown”, it also tends to neglect the reality, which involves the real life burning and witch hunts which still take place in parts of India and result in many deaths of innocent women who are wrongly-accused of being “Daayans”.
Very recently, the film “Ek Thi Daayan” came under fire from activists for its allegedly regressive theme and portrayal of women in a negative light. Ipshita Roy Chakraverti, famed Wiccan Priestess, filed a complaint with the National Commission for Women, her objection being that women should not be portrayed as witches in films. Upon viewing the film, it was discovered that disclaimers had been added prior to the beginning of the film, and that the film itself served to be an entertainer more than a propaganda piece which negated women. It is noteworthy that those who protested against this film did not raise their voices during the promotions and releases of similarly-themed Hollywood films and Television serials such as Twilight and The Vampire Diaries, even though these are often dubbed in Indian languages to appeal to the local market. The Harry Potter series, dubbed in a multitude of languages and dialects, reaches out to both children and adults alike, with its predominant themes of witchcraft and sorcery and is yet to receive any demands for a ban or screening. This series features popular actress Emma Watson who essays the role of Hermione Granger, who finds out that she is a witch and attends the same school of “Witchcraft and Wizardry” as the title character of the series.
Other popular representations of witches which have also been dubbed and appreciated by Indian audiences, sans-complaint, include Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which was adapted for the Hindi-language comedy, “Sharaarat” and Bewitched, one of America’s most popular sitcoms. Television series such as Supernatural feature male protagonists with good and evil powers, and have legions of loyal fans.
However, the reality and prevalence of witch-hunting does still persist in India. In states such as Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha, women are regularly accused of being witches and are subjected to torture and made to participate in a slew of inane rituals which are meant to exorcize the evil spirits from their souls. Bankhiya Rani Temple in Bhilwara, Rajasthan, uses a questionable and violent ritual in order to cleanse alleged witches, in which the woman is thrashed and paraded naked, post-which she must be dragged down flights of stairs with a shoe in her mouth. Needless to say, the number of thriving businesses around the temple which sell shoes, exorcism music cds and brooms is testimony to the true intention of these rituals!
News reports and documentaries which highlight the plight endured by women who are abused in the name of exorcism and witchcraft bring forward realities and reasons which have no actual connection to the films and serials which are accused of promoting such behavior. On the contrary, accusing a woman of witchcraft and then torturing or burning her is an effective way for land-grabbers and extortionists to acquire property and assets. A recent case in Raipur, where a doctor beheaded an 11-year old boy in order to appease God and improve his fortunes, raised doubts about the alleged witchcraft angle and brought forward the possibility of other motives such as sexual abuse and a subsequent cover up. 2 women in Jhinkpara, Jharkhand, were killed by their family members for allegedly practising witchcraft; however police suspect that the reason behind their untimely deaths is a lot more worldly.
The Odisa Government is currently drafting legislation which will hold those who abuse women in the name of witchcraft, accountable for their actions. Penalties for the offenses could go up to Rs.5000 with prison terms for up to 3 years.
In conclusion it should be noted that the Occult, Wizardry and Witchcraft were part of world culture since the advent of humankind before the film and television industry came into play, and that regardless of the many facets of the alternate world which is depicted by the media, it is always the mindset and intent of the individual which guides their actions and makes choices.