A group of women, believed to be blessed with powers of witchcraft, claim to have treated people suffering from dreaded ailments like cancer and AIDS by stroking or even slapping them - an annual tradition in a Chhattisgarh slum during the festive Navratri season. As hundreds of people gathered at the banks of a pond at a slum called New Purena, on the outskirts of Raipur, about five women began their 'healing' with cries of "Maa Jagdambe" at midnight Friday.
They picked up a few children suffering from heart ailments, three women with cancer and two HIV-positive rickshaw pullers from the crowd of around 500.
"See them. They are angels and Maa Durga has blessed them with magical witchcraft powers to treat the poor people in a few minutes just by stroking their heads and slapping them on their backs," Mangru, a 31-year-old rickshaw puller present at the gathering, told IANS.
The witches, wearing black saris and with long hair, jumped and chanted for hours, slapping people to "take out the evil inside their body and rid them of their ailments", onlookers said.
"The witches are really good. Last year my mother was suffering from mouth cancer. She was treated successfully on Mahashtami night (one of the most important nights during the Durga Puja festival). This time the witches helped me get over my breathing problems by dragging me around by my hair," said 36-year-old Nanu Tekam.
The treatment by the Navratri witches of those seriously ill and those supposedly haunted by ghosts is very popular in Chhattisgarh villages. But the other side of it is that people often accuse women of being witches and doing harm. According to the Chhattisgarh government, this is largely responsible for rising atrocities against women.
The state enacted the Witchcraft Atrocities (Prevention) Act in 2005. The act prescribes stringent punishment for crimes committed against women in the name of witchcraft. But the age-old practices continue.