The Dark Side

by Rakshita Sangh

She sat in the corner of the ruined hut,staring at the bats which hung upside down ..who were as secluded as she was…but still at more peace.They had the freedom to move even if only in the cover of dark. She was confined. Her swollen eyes scanned the rugged skin of her hands, running her fingers through her dishevelled hair trying best to smooth them, remembering the last time she had the luxury of a comb. Had she always been like that ? Was she really what the villagers accused her of ? Was she the reason her children,whom she had loved so much, died?  She had begun to doubt herself. As she tried to sleep, her mind drifted to the painful reminiscences. The unfortunate dark and pouring night. The villagers took her to a deserted location and forced her to pick a silver coin from a vessel containing boiling oil. She suffered severe burns on both her hands and  fell unconscious. However, this did not deter the villagers and they thrashed her badly with hot iron rods due to which she received head injuries. The villagers then dumped her outside her house. Her family members, including her husband, did not allow her inside.

Why was she suspected of being a witch? Well, her 3 children had died in the space of a month, and the villagers, presumably driven by other enmities, blamed those deaths on this poor woman. Once accused, she had no chance of  proving herself innocent. According to the  age old tradition of the village …Women, whosoever, labelled as a ‘witch’ by the villagers has to pick a silver coin from a tank filled with boiling oil, with both her hands. If her hands are burnt, her witchhood is confirmed, otherwise she is declared innocent.

So if you’re a woman in such a village, especially low down in the social hierarchy, you’d better make sure you don’t piss anyone off. Unless you’re really a witch and have burn-proof arms..

She tried to pick up the shattered pieces of her life again. Started living in a small hut on the outskirts of the village, living a secluded but peaceful life. She was shaken but not stirred yet. However, her ordeal had just started.

It was 8 AM in the morning when a group of three men and six women came to her house with their allegations. As an attack against her broke out, she cried out for help, but no one heard or heeded her pleas. Instead, she was dragged from her safe place, stripped of all her clothing, and nearly hung from a tree. What was her crime? She was accused of bringing misfortune to others in the village as a practitioner of “Dayan Pratha,” known in rural India as the practice of witchcraft.

This is Kerva village in Chhattisgarh  near a vast, deep forest. The road to the village is so remote and difficult to reach that there are no buses; only a slow four-wheel drive vehicle can negotiate the terrain. With the nearest police station 40 kilometers away, police rarely venture into to the village.

After this incident, police visits have increased dramatically, with arrest warrants for the six women and three men. Four of the wanted individuals are still in hiding.However all her spirits are broken now. She lives in the ruins of an old fort in the distant jungle. Avoiding all contacts with humans, she has understood the dangers of being around them. Maybe they were all correct. If humans were like that she certainly wasn’t one. Maybe she was evil. Maybe her fault was being born a woman, and that too poor . Maybe it was her parents’ fault who had let her live. What relief did the actions of her perpetrators brought to them was unfathomable for her, however she cared the least now. For her every tradition, every relation was a sham. Being a woman  had been a curse for her, the only desire was to be liberated now.


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