India has come a long way, they say. We are the second-largest English speaking country, our youngsters go on to become doctors and engineers at MNCs, we are more developed than we’ve ever been. But amidst all the glitter lies a deep, dark secret which paints a rather sad picture of our supposedly ‘developed’ country.

God men, exorcism, rituals and superstitions – as regressive as they might be – are belief systems that plague our country. There still exist places which believe that a mental disorder, or something as trivial as a fever, can be caused by evil spirits. Then there are places that treat its own women as pariahs and believe that they cannot enter the main house while menstruating. 

And these aren’t just words. These things are happening right here, right now, around us. And this story on News 18 by Swati Vashishtha is a sad reminder that we’re far from the civilized humans that we claim to be. 

A rather small village called Bhilwara, in the southern part of Rajasthan, houses the infamous Bankaya Mata temple, which is a reinforcement of the patriarchal bullshit we keep talking about. 

Women, safely hidden under their pallus, carrying shoes in their hands, heads and mouths, is a common sight at this temple. 

In the name of curing possession by spirits, women of Bhilwara are subjected to gross, degrading and inhuman rituals. The Bhopas (priests or healers) of the temple quell a woman’s dignity and her pride by making her go through gross rituals that are disturbing to even witness. 

Women are made to carry shoes on their heads for miles together. They are made to drink water from shoes and are dragged down the 200 stairs that descent from the temple. For what? All in the hope of a quick fix to cure an ailment or to get rid of the vile ‘spirits’ that possess these unassuming women. 

Sudhir Kasliwal, the sole photographer who documented this grave human right violation, told News 18: 

“It pained me too see the women being beaten up and made to drink water from shoes twenty-one years ago, but what pains me more is that the practice continues. Perhaps our sensibilities accommodate more concern for animals than for women. “

These strange practices are not only demeaning to a person, but are also doing more harm than good. Someone with no mental ailment who is made to go through these bizarre rituals may suffer long-lasting psychological damage. 

Thanks to patriarchy, lack of education and adequate health facilities in villages, women have become easy targets to feed on. While us urban-dwellers show off our rights in all their grandiose, the women in these villages writhe in pain as they succumb to these horrible practices. 

We live in the age of modern technology, yet, a majority of people still believe in superstitions and blindly follow god men. What religious belief and superstition is above the virtue of humanity? 

More importantly, is this how we want to treat our women? Is this what an ’empowered India’ looks like?

Read more on this on News18. 

Images by Sudhir Kasliwal. You can follow his work on his website or his Facebook page

All images have been used with the photographer’s permission and cannot be reproduced.