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The author delves into the myth of the possessed woman and explores the truth underneath, revealing the ugliness of a patriarchal society.
Coming from a devout Muslim family, djinns and shaitans used to be cardinal figures in the bedtime stories narrated to us during humid summer nights.
We had heard a great deal about women who were ostracised because they were possessed, women who were tagged as ‘mad’, ‘chudail’, ‘Mata’ etc.
But it wasn’t until I was 11, that I got to witness as well as experience the wrath of one such woman in person. It was after that incident, I became averse to this strange, strange world of the supernatural.
Life, however, had other plans. As a twelfth-grade Psychology student, struggling to find a topic worthy for a case-study, I found myself watching a documentary—about all those women I so dreaded as a child.
As it peeled the layers of the gruesome practice of “demonic possession”, I witnessed the naked ugliness of the reality I was running away from. It wasn’t the possessed I was afraid of now, but rather the ‘sane’ world.
Some weeks pass by, and I find myself talking to the woman I feared all my life and researching about many of her likes. My life hasn’t been the same since then and I am here to tell their story.
While the world moved past its infamous lobotomies and asylums to treat mental illnesses humanely, India is still basking in antiquity.
The sheer ignorance makes way for ojhas and hakims, mostly frauds, to dupe people into a vicious cycle of exploitation.
I remember watching my subject being put through eccentric solutions to cast away the Djinn—from being shouted at, to pleating of unusual braids and even dry red chillies being frizzled to annoy the entity out of her body.
She was privileged enough to not experience the physical abuse many like her were subjected to, by those who claim to ‘treat’ them.
In ‘Chase’, a documentary by ScoopWhoop, a Computer Science graduate who claims to know the ‘art of exorcism’ hits a possessed woman in order to free her.
These abusive methods often work, because, as professional psychologists say–the physical pain overpowers the symptoms of their mental illnesses, only to resurface again.
According to various professionals, a majority of these possessed individuals actually suffer from Dissociative identity disorder, paranoid schizophrenia, severe depression and/or hallucinations.
However, here is some food for thought—One study covered 7, 61,297 rural populations in 253 village panchayats spread over 65 mandals in Chittoor district and it was found that possession disorder was more common in females, in the 25-35 year age group and in married subjects.
Trance state, or “states involving a temporary loss of the sense of personal identity and full awareness of the surroundings” as it is defined in clinical psychiatry, allows women to move past the societal constraints of “expected behaviour”.
The aggression and uncontrollable actions expressed during this state frees them from any responsibility and thus, gives way to otherwise suppressed emotions.
A close observation will make it clearer that most of the time, the identity such women take during role reversal is that of a man, including my subject– who claimed to have been possessed by a Djinn named Danish.
Even while hearing about women of bygone days, I notice the nuances in the description of their trance states, from “praying like a man“, to changing pronouns. Their possession inadvertently put their identity as a woman out of sight.
The conversation around mental health in India, is like opening the Pandora’s box.
While “therapy” has remained either an elitist phenomenon or a millennial fad; superstition and blind faith have become a conduit for monetary gains for those who sit at the centre of this vicious cycle, with a license to physically, emotionally and even sexually abuse women—who are already burdened with a sensitive sense of identity.
Hence, when patriarchy and its consequences have gotten so inextricably linked with mental illnesses, cultivating a human understanding of mental-health will be an uphill battle, indeed.
Image source: a still from the film RAAZ REBOOT (YouTube)
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I am Tasneem Khan, a 17 year-old student and an aspiring writer from
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