People are quick to fear something they do not understand or are not acquainted with. The only obvious way of dealing with something one fears is to destroy it. In an ideal world that would not be the case, trying and understanding the alien would be.
Meet Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, someone who has been dispelling unfounded fears regarding an issue that is still prevalent today - witchcraft.
Born and brought up in an elite family, Chakraverti is the daughter of a royal mother and a diplomat father. When she was living in Canada, Chakraverti was a member of a select group of women who were studying ancient cultures and the old ways. She got married soon after and moved to India. In 1986 Ipsita Roy Chakraverti declared herself as a witch. By that time, she had already adopted Wicca as her religion.
For the uninitiated, Wicca is a new religious movement that was founded in England in the early part of the 1900s. Founded by Englishman Gerald Gardner, Wicca was introduced to the public in 1954. According to Gardner, Wicca emerged from a European witch-cult that was persecuted during the witch trials. The core of this religion is formed of ancient pagan and 20th-century hermetic motifs.
Wicca translates to 'craft of the wise'. Chakraverti calls it a "study of comparative belief systems". It is safe to say that Chakraverti introduced Wicca to the Indian diaspora. She had connected the belief system of Wicca to ancient beliefs such as Tantra and Dakini Vidya.
In the year 2006, Chakraverti founded the Wiccan Brigade. She handpicked a small group of students and taught them the old ways of Wicca. She and members of the Wiccan Brigade still work to eradicate superstition and remove the stigma that is associated with the term 'witch'.
“When I started in 1987 in Calcutta, ‘witch’ used to be a bad word, an abusive expression,” she said in an interview to The Telegraph. Needless to say, when she declared herself to be a witch, she received quite a backlash. But she never gave up the fight, even though it was a tough one. But she has largely been able to remove the stigma in urban areas only.
Gradually the Wiccan Brigade began to expand and included many more subjects including Psychology and Philosophy. In 2013, the umbrella organisation The Young Bengal Brigade came into being. The Wiccan Brigade now functions under it.
It is not uncommon to see people being beheaded, lynched or torched under accusations of practicing witchcraft. Chakraverti is fighting against the exact fears that lead people to such insanity. Wicca separates itself from the malefic aspect of the dakini that folklore has made so popular through the years. What the Wiccans do, essentially, is then combine mysticism and science and the esoteric traditions of the East and West.
She even said in an interview to IBN Live, "Wicca has always stood for knowledge, strength and women's empowerment. That was the original Wicca. The distortions came later instigated by organized religion or by a male dominated society. Instilling fear was never one of the motives. Maybe fear of Wicca was drummed into people in order to satisfy various lobbies with vested interests." She further added that the Wiccan Brigade strives to "bring back old values which are now increasingly deteriorating in society".
Chakraverti has also written three books - Beloved Witch, Sacred Evil and Spirits I Have Known - all critically acclaimed. But the fight is far from over. There were incidents last year where a woman in Sonitpur district of Assam was beheaded and five women in Haryana were lynched to death. But in what seems like a step forward, the State Assembly of Assam has passed the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill, unanimously.
Anonymity or an intent to conceal their identities has been widely associated with witches. Whether one is a witch or not, if there are people running amok trying to burn or lynch someone they believe to be a witch, it is only wise to conceal one's beliefs and practices. That's how Ipsita Roy Chakraverti broke through. Her visibility brought about acceptance of her beliefs and practices. Those were not 'performed under the cover of dark' anymore and did not seem dangerous, just a bit different.
It might take a while to understand Wicca practices and beliefs, but acceptance of the same has definitely been fast-forwarded by Chakraverti's presence.