Away from the shining India celebrating late Olympic success through women power exist places where women are made to drink water out of shoes. The remote village in Bhilwara, Rajasthan remained in the pre-Independence era and came into vision through the lens of photographer Sudhir Kasliwal. The regressive exorcism rituals are still a common sight in those villages.
Hundreds of women are brought to the Bankaya Mata temple in Bhilwara from every nearby village for their treatment. They are then subjected to the degrading and dangerous practices in the name of remedial measures or treatment. Women are put through different regressive rituals by the Bhopas (quasi-priests as well as therapists) that include drinking water out of shoes, walking kilometres while carrying shoes in mouth and head or dragging themselves down over 200 steps in the temple (to drive out the evil spirits) in the name of treatment. This atrocious ritual takes place every week in Bankaya Mata temple.
Photographer Sudhir Kasliwal went to Bankaya Mata temple in in 1995 after hearing about its strange exorcism rituals. What he witnessed moved him deeply. It pained him beyond description. He had all those rituals photographed on film then. But, what pained him more is the fact that even after 21 years the practice still continues.
The ritual starts with women made to walk kilometres with shoes on their head as well as clutched in their mouth. At the end, they are made to drink water out of those shoes in the name of exorcism. Most of the women brought for treatment usually suffering from mental illness or the in-laws want them to be tagged insane (to teach young girls who are outspoken and not well adjusted in their in-laws’ homes some lessons).
The women with real mental illness suffer most through this torturous ritual, while it affects the normal women badly enough. The rituals often lead to permanent and long-term emotional damage to the mentally ill patients. As observed by psychiatrist Ruma Bhattacharya, these women have no space to express their feelings and sufferings leading to hysteric behaviour that further wrongfully interpreted as being ‘possessed’. They sustain long-lasting emotional issues such as phobia and bad dreams.
Readers may get shocked after knowing these incidents and may feel comfort thinking that such extreme superstitions only exist in remote, uneducated and backward areas of the country. But, in reality, superstitions became a part of educated mass living in urban areas as well. The case of Asaram is an example of such behaviour and belief (where a teenage girl was brought to the Godman for exorcism and allegedly sexually assaulted).
Although the newspaper reports have resulted in the arrest of four such Bhopas or quacks from the premises of Bankaya Mata temple and are now guarding the temple to stop such activities, sociologist Rajeev Gupta believes that these steps are mere eyewash. According to him the myth originated from a small story and became a tradition over time. Women pose as soft targets because of illiteracy, lack of empowerment and access to healthcare facilities and the scarcity of qualified mental health professionals.
It is a shame to the educated mass that such inhuman tradition is still thriving in our country. Ironically, a barbarous camel sport known as “Ladoo Oont” that was annually performed at Pushkar Fair got called off shortly after Sudhir Kasliwal made a documentary about it in 1979. In “Ladoo Oont” riders subjected the camels to perform gruelling tasks to test the strength of the animal, even as the camels groaned in pain. But, the torture of women did not stop after the photographs taken by him went public in 1995. Perhaps our senses are more accommodating towards animals than women, lamented the photographer.
Image Courtesy: Sudhir Kasliwal