Kali is not the sweetest of Hindu deities. She’s usually depicted with tongue lolling, a garland of skulls around her neck, 4 to 10 arms flaying and dicing and chopping in a frenzy of perennial creation and destruction.
And depending on how you interpret her wiles, she may demand a little earthly help when it comes to the bit about dicing and chopping.
At least 18 tribal villagers in India’s northeast have been arrested for hacking to death a man they suspected of practising witchcraft, police say. They said they were told to kill the victim by a Hindu goddess who appeared in their dreams.
Mobs have killed at least 200 people over the past five years who they have accused of practising sorcery and witchcraft — mainly in tribal-dominated areas of western and northern Assam state, Indian police say.
The killing took place on Friday at a tea estate village in Assam’s Cachar district, 300 kilometres south of the impoverished state’s main city of Guwahati.
Cachar district police chief Diganta Bora said by telephone that the attack was “barbaric with a group of hysterical villagers sacrificing the man by piercing his neck with sharp weapons and chanting religious hymns”.
The villagers who took part in the killing of the 55-year-old man believed the victim was practising witchcraft and were seeking to “appease the goddess Kali”, the Hindu deity of destruction, Bora said. …
Police in the state have set up a program, called Project Prahari (Vigilance), that involves community policing and holding regular education campaigns among tribal chiefs and village elders.
“Simply enforcing the law and punishing the guilty are inadequate measures. There has to be an attitudinal change,” Saikia said.
That would also be a much-needed initiative in Papua New Guinea, where the fight against witches is ensconced in official law. No kidding. I refer to the
Sorcery Act of 1971, which acknowledges the existence of sorcery and criminalizes both those who practice it and those who attack people accused of sorcery. [source]
That means that boozy mobs in New Guinea’s hinterlands, when someone has a score to settle or a sickness to explain, frequently set upon lone women without male family members to protect them, and accuse them of witchcraft.
Notes Jo Chandler in the Global Mail [thanks to Nicolas Eyle for the link]:
Angela [an accused witch] was naked, staked-out, spread-eagled on a rough frame before them, a blindfold tied over her eyes, a fire burning in a nearby drum. Being unable to see can only have inflated her terror, her sense of powerlessness and the menace around her; breathing the smoke and feeling the heat of the fire where the irons being used to burn her were warmed until they glowed. Would she be cooked, on that fire? She must have known it had happened to others before — and would soon infamously happen again, the pictures finding their way around the world.
The photographs witnesses took of Angela’s torture are shocking, both for the cruelty of the attackers and the torpid body-language of the spectators. Stone-faced men and women and wide-eyed children huddle under umbrellas, sheltering from the drenched highlands air as Angela writhes against the tethers at her wrists and ankles, twisting her body away from the length of hot iron which a young man aims at her genitals.
The story, with good reason, casts a transported Swiss Catholic nun as the hero who helps fight the insanity and cares for the too-few victims who survive the ordeal.
Here at Moral Compass HQ, where we believe actual good works transcend verbal skirmishes between atheists and believers, we doff our cap to Sister Gaudentia Meier, and send her our sincere respect and best wishes for successful interventions.