Malda, June 7: Barely a stone’s throw from the police station in the heart of the town, a 35-year-old is being beaten black and blue for the past four days by the local shaman in the name of ridding her of evil spirit.
Lakshmi Ghosh, the mother of a grown-up son, is slumped on her haunches, both hands tied to a tree in the middle of the courtyard of Santoshi Pal, the ojha. Her mouth is stuffed with herbs and roots and gagged, as the sun beats down. Incense and a fire burn around the tree as Santoshi circles her, chanting charms and thrashing a helpless Lakshmi with a broom. Lakshmi’s brothers, Tapan and Topa, are at her feet, pinning her legs down as she writhes.
From time to time, Santoshi sprinkles foul-smelling water from a bottle filled from a nearby drain.
“This has been going on for the past four days. She is brought to Santoshi from her home next door, bathed, tied to the tree and then the ritual goes on for a few hours. Then she is taken away to her house, where she is kept chained,” said Saroj Pal, a neighbour.
About a hundred people have gathered to watch the three-hour “session” to save the “possessed” women. After another bout of thrashing, some murmur: “The woman will surely die.”
But the police are yet to lift a finger. “How can we take action when no one has complained to us' It is not possible to peer into every household to find out what is going all the time,” said Malda police superintendent Pankaj Dutta. He said the police would swing into action if a specific complaint is lodged.
Englishbazar municipal chairman Krishnendu Chowdhury had arrived at the scene on hearing about the goings-on. “The woman cannot survive this torture and will surely die. I told the police, but they want a written complaint. I will speak to the sub-divisional officer so that the woman is rescued and sent to the government-run asylum here,” Chowdhury said.
Lakshmi’s torment started last week after his brothers fetched her from her in-laws’ house in Bihar as she had become depressed and withdrawn. Back home in her Aurobina Park residence in Englishbazar, little did Lakshmi know that instead of a medical practitioner she would be taken for “treatment” to Santoshi, a woman who residents claim can work miracles.
Lakshmi’s brothers have no qualms about putting their sibling through such torture. “Many people have been cured by Santoshi as we have seen ourselves. Our sister had stopped eating and after being put through this exorcism, she has started taking a little rice,” explained Tapan. He said he would definitely consult a doctor if Santoshi failed.
Santoshi is confident of her methods. “She has been possessed by a spirit while she was in Bihar. I will get rid of it in nine days, then she will be back to her old self,” she proclaimed.