Ekta Kapoor’s new film Ek Thi Daayan (Once there was a witch), released on 9 April, is facing protests all over Jharkhand. Premchand, the president of Jamshedpur’s Free Legal Aid Committee, has appealed to President Pranab Mukherjee that as the film promotes superstition, it should be banned. The screening of the film, he said, would adversely impact the public awareness campaign against witchcraft that has been launched not only in Jharkhand but all over India.
The legal aid committee has been agitating against witchcraft for more than two decades. The rural in-charge of the committee, was, at one time, persecuted after being branded a daayan (witch). Recently, the National Women’s Commission gave her an award for her contribution to the anti-witchcraft campaign.
In Vishal Bharadwaj and Ekta Kapoor’s film Ek Thi Daayan, a witch named Diana is portrayed as possessing supernatural powers. She waits for 20 years to take her revenge. The film says that witches have thick hair and their power lies in the plait of their hair and that their feet point backwards. What impact all this superstitious trash can have on the society needs no explaining. It is another matter that Konkana Sen Sharma, with her large, deep eyes, dusky complexion and long braid of hair looks, every bit an eminently loveable daayan. But her character is bound to promote superstitions in society.
How witchcraft is playing havoc in Jharkhand can be gauged from the fact that in the last two decades, at least 1,200 women have met a gory end after being branded daayan. In view of the seriousness of the problem, the government had promulgated the Witchcraft Prohibition Act 1999 in July 2001. Under the Act, branding any woman as a witch and subjecting her to mental or physical torture or exploitation has been declared a penal offence punishable with imprisonment for up to six months or a fine of Rs 2,000. Under the Act, the persons who spread the rumours of a woman being a witch or persuade others to harass her or abet the crime will be liable for a rigorous imprisonment for three months or a fine of Rs 1,000. Doesn’t the film Ek Thi Daayan contravene this law?
Published in the June 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine