In the untamed interior villages of the Wild East that is Bihar, caste and community based Panchayats have a sway of their own, often imposing archaic forms of justice on the communities.
Mahila Samakhya women often challenge patriarchy and superstition, and undermine those who want to use distorted religion or superstition to control communities.
Now why is the Smriti Irani and her HRD department trying to sabotage Mahila Samakhya by with-holding funds and insinuating that the Modi Government doesn’t need the programme? After all, Mahila Samakhya is one of the most successful women empowerment and educational programmes run by the Centre for the past 24 years.
Here’s a true story from the Mahila Samakhya Files: 2014-15
Rubaida Khatoon was in great distress. The men of Madaiya village in Parvata Block of Khagaria district had summoned her husband Hiyatat Khan to a Panchayat.
For some years now, the village whispers that Rubaida was a witch were growing louder. If a child got fever, or a buffalo fell sick, people would blame it on Rubaida Khatoon.
Her husband, Hiyayat Khan went to the sarpanch (headman). The Panchayat was called. Most of those present were men. It was decided that ten men would escort Rubaida to an ancient well in the village of Kharauta Sharif. She would have to take a bath at the ‘magical’ well in the presence of the men. If she were indeed a witch, the well-water would compel her to dance. If she began to dance after her bath, the men would cut her to pieces. The Panchayat also decreed that Hiyayat Khan would have to bear the cost for transportation and food for the 10 executioners. In order to prove his wife’s innocence, Hiyayat Khan borrowed ten thousand rupees at a monthly interest of ten percent from a local money-lender.
The Mahila Samakhya samooh got to know of this and immediately approached the headman for a second Panchayat hearing, where they countered all the allegations and opposed the Panchayat ruling, but this has no effect on the men. The decision to execute Rubaida if she was proved a witch remained. (Samooh is the name for the village level unit of Mahila Samakhya, Bihar)
The Samooh women then took Rubaida Khatoon along with them to the police station at Madaiya, where they submitted a written report of the whole incident.
Then Rubaiya told the village, “I am ready to go anywhere. If anything happens to me, it doesn’t matter. I have given a written report to the police station.”
On hearing this, the men grew pale. “They were stunned. Now nobody wanted to go to Karauta Sharif, and nobody was inclined to call Rubaida a witch. The officer in charge of the police station arrived at the village and sternly warned the men involved, and told them about the grave consequences they would face if they tried to harm any woman by calling her a witch.,” says a field report filed by the Samooh.
Now Rubaida Khatoon can breathe freely . She has no nightmares about going to Karauta Sharif.