Hindustan Times (Delhi)
Branded witches, dakans of MP’S Patidar community fight back
BHOPAL: Khushboo Patidar is often told these days she has started talking too much. Her village elders preferred her silence. But the 16-year-old has had enough of them and their ways.
The teenager from Bhayana village in Madhya Pradesh’s Rajgarh district wants to know why her Patidar community branded her a dakan (witch) the moment she was born. Her mother gave her an explanation when she hit puberty, saying she had inherited the tag in accordance with a custom of the community.
“My mother told me she too was deemed a witch from birth and was seeking an answer to the same question for the last 40 years.” Khushboo scoffs at the custom that has made her endure snide remarks and discrimination since childhood. Mocked as a dakan, not allowed to attend puja functions and weddings, and even prevented from eating spicy food, she has finally rebelled.
And, she isn’t alone in her rebellion. In November last year, Khushboo and more than 20 other young women of Rajgarh district branded as dakans met superintendent of police Shimala Prasad to demand an end to this custom.
They told the police the dakan custom was prevalent in at least 12 Patidar-dominated villages of Rajgarh and adjoining Shajapur district. Most Patidars in these villagers are farmers. Police found after a survey that, even by conservative estimates, nearly 400 women had been declared dakans in these villages.
STIGMA NOT FOR BOYS
Nocommunityelderknowswhen the dakan custom started, but they know the rules. A girl born to a woman declared a dakan too is deemed as one. However, a boy born to the same woman does not have to bear any such stigma.
Shivprasad Patidar, 52, of Khushboo’s village, explains why. “Who are we to decide what is wrong and right? We can’t change our customs as it would be an insult to our ancestors.”
Shivprasad has six sisters, all branded dakans. He cut off ties with them after their marriage, following an associated dakan custom.
A girl declared a dakan sees her marriage prospects dwindle. “Many are married off to poor or elderly men, and widowers,” said a 20-year-old married woman deemed a dakan. She recently had a daughter and did not want to be named. She is determined her daughter will not inherit the dakan tag. Her elder brother said, “I feel very bad for my sister. More than a custom, it is a social evil. She has faced a lot of discrimination and wants to fight back. I am with her.”
FIGHTBACK EASIER SAID THAN DONE
Nursing student Rekha Patidar, who lives with the dakan tag, said, “I told my friends about this practice. They laughed and refused to believe me. Then they realised the gravity of the problem and supported us.”
Youngsters such as Khushboo and Rekha are among those who went to the police, ruffling quite a few feathers. Some community seniors forced to live with the tag are supporting them.
Kalabai Patidar, 50, of Uchod village in Shajapur, said, “I am not a dakan. People who call us dakan are the real dakans. I realised this late and will not bear this curse anymore.”
Community leaders had not anticipated this defiance. Pipliya Rasoda resident Amrutlal Patidar, a senior leader of the community, said, “People are unnecessarily politicising it. A solution is possible only through discussion among community members. It is wrong that women and girls are involving the police.”
THE CONSEQUENCE OF DEFIANCE
About three years ago, a group of Patidar youngsters opposed to the practice of dakan organised a feast at Kadwala village and invited the community’s members for a discussion. Many came, but the move backfired.
“Women not deemed dakans who went to the feast were branded as dakans. In one stroke, the number of dakans in the area increased manifold,” said Bhayana farmer Vishnu Patidar.
“Vested interests in the community are not willing to stop this practice so we have decided to lodge complaints against them,” said Vishnu, whose mother and wife are considered dakans.
Police are treading cautiously. Rajgarh SP Prasad said, “I held a discussion with senior community leaders. They are very stubborn. We don’t want to resolve this by taking legal action because it will increase friction between the community’s members. We are trying to resolve it by community participation.”