Superstition And Social Suppression
A video about beating of a young girl by men posted on social media went viral a few days back. The video was posted after two weeks of the July 3 incident. The shocking incident had taken place in a village of Marchabar area in Rupendehi district in Nepal. Following the ‘breaking news’ in the social media, news media outlets in Nepal reported on the incident, and it came out to be known that the girl named Meena Yadav was beaten by her father and other relatives as she had had love affairs with a boy of lower caste and that she had tried to protect her lover when her family members attacked him at her home.
As per social practice in the given area, she was to be married with another boy as her father had given word when she was an innocent child. Maybe she knew of that, but, even then she fell in love with the lower caste boy, a school teacher. The case was settled in the police post in presence of the chairperson of the rural municipality of the area. The boy side was made to pay for the girl side a considerable sum of money. But when the issue re-emerged, the police took action against those involved in beating, and now even the girl’s father is in police custody, which has, according to reports, irritated the girl. She is lately reported to be saying that her family members beat her for her fault and it was family affairs and there is no need of concern for others. One can understand why she is saying so, out of love for her father and family members who may have to serve sentences and she may be taunted as one bringing ill-fate to the family.
Along with this report about the love affair and family rejection, there were other equally shocking reports about girls’ death due to snake bite in the shed where they were kept separately for they were in their menstrual period. Such practice of forcing women to live separately in a shed during menstruation is called Chhaupadi practice in some far-western districts of Dailekh, Accham, Doti, and Dadeldhura. Both types of reports were related to social issues and about how women are subjected to discrimination, social suppression due to existing social ill-practices.
In the Marchbar love case, most probably the girl’s family rejected the love affair simply because the boy belonged to a lower, untouchable caste. In this sense, it is related to caste system or caste-ism. The ill-practice of forcing women to stay away from home during the monthly period is related to discrimination against women. But there is one similarity between these two incidents as they both are just the results of social superstition. They exist because they are made socially acceptable as a social customs or part of culture. A few educated people may denounce it as evil-practice, but the majority of people who learn the practice while growing as part of their society can’t do otherwise for they fear being punished by God.
Unfortunately, all superstitions are linked or defined as linked in this or that way with a religion. And such a superstitious belief system is imparted to a person since childhood through practices, stories and in some cases through anecdotes in religious scriptures. The women where Chhaupadi is in practice fear living with the family during the period as they believe some misfortune will happen to the family. They as well as other family members and in this sense the whole community is made to believe so. As long as menstruation is understood as impurity, this problem is unlikely to be fully solved because even some highly educated women in the cities fear to visit religious shrines, temples during their monthly simply because they believe they become untouchable or impure during the period.
It is not that such ill-practices are prevalent because of the lack of laws against them or because of lack of proper education. Nepal has adequate body of laws against caste based discrimination, discrimination or violence against women. There is a provision to provide incentives in cash for inter caste marriage, particularly between the Dalit (low caste) and non-Dalit (upper caste). To blame anyone for witchcraft is a crime. Although some of these laws are new, many of them are very old and they have had some progressive impact on the society albeit in a very slow pace.
Frequency of such shocking incidents related to witchcraft, caste-based discrimination or discrimination against women has slightly decreased. Even then, it has been proved that it is very difficult to uproot social rooted superstition, ill-practices simply by way of education and laws. Implementation of laws is checked by social pressure. The Marchbar case is an example. Otherwise, the police would have taken action against the family members who had beaten the girl in presence of a crowd or the community members could have saved the girl from being cruelly beaten. If education alone could uproot social ills, every school going girl would reject to live in the cowshed or a separate hut called Chhau during the monthly.
Following the local election and formation of the local level government there are reports about the decisions of different rural /municipalities increasing allowances for senior citizens, delivery women and so on. Given the fact that the government has been providing such allowances for many years and has also increased the amount timely, to make similar decision by the local government is no innovative work. They will be just copycat even in case of given social issues of their society.
Therefore, in addition to exploring ways to initiate new economic, development issue, they have a great role in finding and implementing methods to eliminate ill social practices and beliefs. As the local representatives know much about their society they can greatly contribute to social development of their area. The question is what programmes and methods will the local government bring forth to fight against such ill practices as caste based discrimination, Chhaupadi and others? Will they work to impart scientific world outlook and free the society from superstitions and thus make the society modern?
Narayan Kaji Shrestha is the secretariat member and spokesperson of the ruling Nepal Communist Party. Although he had staked his claim to the post of...