Despite being beaten why did you visit the traditional healer every day", I asked her. She replied, "I yearned I could get well, I thought this was the way I could get rid of the pain from my body and worries out of mind." She had been visiting numerous places and healers so that she could live a healthy life henceforth.
"I feel very weak and had a headache and pain all over my body since my childhood. We had very little nutritious food for all eight members of our family."
She is the third child among five daughters. Eighteen-year-old Rita (name changed) stayed upset all day as she saw her father scold or beat her mother almost every time in the drunken state. She esteemed her father as a cruel when he was drunk. "You didn't give me a son, and all I now have is four daughters in the home”, she relentlessly heard from her drunken father.
She still remembers how her grandparents separated the family after her birth since there was no male child in the home. They were left in midst situation with a land that was nearly jungle and only two dishes for cooking food.
“I saw my mother being severely scolded and quarrel at home, I did not like to study neither I wanted to stay at home, she adds." As she grew up, the family didn't have enough money for food and daily expense. Her father worked as a carpenter on daily wage earning NRs 350 rupee on a day unless he could find the work and all his earning paid off to alcohol. Nevertheless, the family worked at others land but shared the harvesting with the landowner.
Two years ago, she visited her Guruwa (local priest in Chaudhary community) who mentioned she had problems because of a witch within herself. Due to this, she was troubled and started looking for other faith leaders over time.
"A few weeks later, I went to Dhangadhi for treatment with a priest. He told me to worship daily, avoid meat and also the food prepared by others. I felt tranquillity while staying there.
Then she returned back to her own village.
"I felt dizzy when I went to the crowd or saw a large group. I cried and spoke to myself like mad for two weeks. Then, in search of peace, I went to India and cities nearby, met with healers, priests and gave offerings to god. I even offered a hen to god. I went to temples and things look good when I was outside. After a few weeks, I was back home, I felt shy, uncomfortable and not wanting to speak to anyone again." She looks desperate as she tells me.
And one day in her school she heard a local of her neighboring village had turned into 'baba' (priest) who could heal anyone with his magical power. There were rumors that hundreds of people were already getting out of their problems and people from far villages paid the visit to him.
"When I heard this I was happy with the thought that I could regain my health and all of my sufferings will disappear if I once visited him." Rita became hopeful after her school teacher suggested, "Rita, why don’t you visit him once, it would be better to visit him if all your pain gets healed”. And then one school day, I went to visit the very Baba with my school friend walking one and a half kilometer on a country road."
She saw that baba healed the people in different groups. The worshipping started from dawn till dusk. He used to ask everyone to worship him as he spread rumor that he received the power of god Shiva. This driven her to worship him.
23 years old Baba was surrounded by locals in his front yard. Baba's forehead was painted with yellow tika, had Rudrakshya and a yellow scarf around his neck. He wore yellow lungi with a blue full shirt and danced barefooted. Rita felt a ray of hope that he is someone who could treat her, "When I saw him dancing and people worshiping him I felt he was really an incarnation of God."
He pointed Trishul towards people and said, "There are many witches in the society and they trouble innocent people. I can drive the evil with the power of Shiva".
She expressed her problems and then baba replied, in front of the people "you are ichadhari Nagin (serpent that can change shapes and take human form). And a witch has affected you. The land your family has built home is also not good. Come to me daily for worshipping."
"I didn't believe him that I was a serpent so I did not go for worship to him again."
In two days, baba asked her friends to tell Rita to visit her, "Why did not she come to me, she was recovering, ask her to come here with the family. If she does not continue worshipping, she will go insane".
"I was afraid that I would go mad. With fear and also in hope of recovery I went back to him again."
This time she was taken to a room which was dark. There were only things for worshiping, also some tika (a mixture of color, rice, and yogurt). The baba gave some rice to her that he told was enchanted and asked to eat. After eating, she felt relaxed and it appeared as if she was losing consciousness, though was able to see and hear what was happening.
"Do not worry, I will heal you", baba claimed. "Come here to worship me every day, and one day you will be healed completely", she nodded in agreement.
He made her lied on the ground facing up, and enchanted mantra and started dancing around her.
"Now, dance and show your real incarnation", baba commanded. She was confused, "How could I dance like the serpent, since I was not one."
He holds her hands and forced dancing with him. When she felled down baba used to hold her in his arms and continued dancing. Next, she was asked to lie down facing up again and he started beating her with legs on the stomach. She cried with pain and rolled holding down her stomach, and then there was another heavy leg on her back.
"He used to beat with his hand and legs on my stomach and back. I don't know what other things happened after I was hurt. After some time I don't remember what happened to me. I woke up of my unconsciousness, after around three hours. Baba asked me to come back again. I somehow managed to walk back to my home."
This routine continued for nine days. She left eating regularly and going out with friends and locked up herself inside the room.
"On March 8, at 9 am I went for worship to Baba's home. When I reached there, I saw that baba was beating two girls in front of the locals alleging them as a witch. I don't know what happened to me at the moment that I became very angry. I throw away water-glass, and offerings brought to him and went to grab his neck."
Seeing her being fierce, Baba said that now another witch has come. "I wanted to grab his neck. But, I was powerless in front of him. He forced me to sit beside another girl. He hit me on my eyes. I fall down to the ground. He started beating all three of us with hands and legs. He continued beating another girl who was 20. The girl was saying she is not a witch and has not killed anyone. Around 500 people clapped when he hit her in back with both hands and legs and pulled her hair. After some time I became unconscious. I was there for 3-4 hours."
Later at 12 noon, Rita managed to walk back home and fall asleep soon. Her eyes opened at four. She wanted to eat something.
"I had a fever and could not get up from the bed. I nearly fainted trying to walk. I was thirsty but could not walk up even to the tap."
At night she heard her mother returning from the field preparing food and doing dishes who was unaware of this incident.
She refused food at dinner, worried mother came to her room and asked, "Where had you gone? You did not tell anyone or ask while you go out alone." Her question made me angry as I had returned home in great difficulty.
Rita did not speak much with family members now and after all, Rita and her sisters would usually stay away from the father too.
"We did not sit together with him, if he is inside the home we came outside and if he was outside we went inside. He would scold us very badly even for small mistakes. And I think my mom is also tired of looking after me. She becomes ill at-least twice a month. She was married at the small age. Even my little sister was almost dead in her childhood and everyone said she would not survive."
At night that day, she heard her father asking mother "where is Rita" and she replied that Rita was slept without eating and also added she talked to anyone either for two days. So, her mother asked him to take Rita to the hospital
"Next day, he brought some medicine for me. It was already three days but my father did not take me to the hospital. Then I went to the hospital with my sister."
When the doctor saw me he asked me if I was married and I replied no. Then he asked me how I had an injury in my eye then. At first, she told she had pain in her arms.
The doctor knew it was a clear indication of being beaten after he saw red and blue marks on her body. Everyone knew about the incidents regarding this baba, he asked: "did you go to the Baba for treatment earlier."
She looked thin, upset and frightened. He said, "The baba has beaten a lot of girls in the village in name of treatment. The baba was beating a lot of girls naming that they were the witch and the evil should come out. Another girl is also in the district hospital and the Baba was arrested."
The doctor examined her briefly and refused to treat there mentioning she was beaten severely. Doctor asked to go to the local police station at first to file the case against him.
"On our way, we met elected representatives who said it was not necessary to go to the police now. They instead asked us to go back home and they will settle the matter later in the village. But, I went to the local police station with my father. We were sent to District Police Station from there"
Since the local police station had not registered the case of girls accused as witches, women rights activists, women human right defenders, journalist and civil society were already in protest. We demanded the case be lodged for the justice of girls who were beaten for 4-6 hours on 8 March. After the pressure, the complaint was lodged in District Police Station.
Rita walked holding her stomach, bending forward when WOREC staffs were in District Police Station in preparation for taking the case forward in court. She walked very slowly and was walking with her father's support. Her legs trembled when she moved forward. Many times she was dizzy and sat down immediately. She had a blue mark on the right eye, swollen face and looked frightened. In the police station t0o, she wanted to talk in the presence of staffs of WOREC only. She cried on every phrase she could speak in the police station.
Rita received medical treatment from the hospital and stayed at WOREC's safe house during her hearing. She was provided with psychosocial counseling. She stayed for more than a month in the safe house and gave her final school examination too.
Her parents were worried to bring her daughter to court, her mother said, "My daughter was beaten. We are farmers and have never engrossed ourselves in court or police station before. My daughters are laborious, they did not get a good environment at home. But even though Rita is weak in the study I believe she will pass her final examination."
Rita attended the hearing with the other two girls and gave her statement in front of the judge. She struggled to answer the questions in court, "I was afraid of seeing the Baba inside and I only answered the questions that were asked of me. I was also angry with the Baba as I spoke. There were no women inside except me."
At the end of the hearing, the perpetrator was sent to jail for 5 years with fine.
"Do you find the healing?"
"No, he had been sent to jail for so little time, there were many girls who were severely beaten. Worriedly she continued, "People think that we are getting a lot of money in name of relief, but my condition is nothing better. I haven't received any money. Had I have peace in my home and had a good health, I don't think I would be in this state now. I can't go back to my village, in the same way, I used to go before. Life is more miserable now. People do not care about us who had been the victim once, and also people contemplated me a witch."
WOREC records average 35 cases of witch accusation in a year from its working district.
Harmful traditional practices like witch accusations are eating up our society and they are feeding on the living bodies. Young girls and women like Rita are the victims of these practices and they will continue to be prey until women can enjoy control over their own body, and identity and until and unless perspective of looking towards women in this patriarchal society changes.