Whipped for being 'possessed', pregnant TN domestic violence survivor speaks out

Taken to a shaman by her husband, Jyothi* says she was whipped, caned and slapped for three hours for being 'possessed'. "I screamed my lungs out but no one came to help," she says.
Whipped for being 'possessed', pregnant TN domestic violence survivor speaks out
Whipped for being 'possessed', pregnant TN domestic violence survivor speaks out
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When we meet 24-year-old Jyothi* (name changed) in one of Madurai’s dusty, narrow lanes on a stiff summer afternoon, she is barely able to speak. Shifting her one-year-old daughter from one side of her hip to the other, she explains in her hoarse voice, that she is yet to completely recover from the incident that took place on March 1.

Jyothi, who is now four months pregnant with her second child, was allegedly duped and involuntarily taken to a shaman in Appantirupathi on Thursday night by her husband, with help from three of his friends, who branded her as possessed. There, inside the shaman’s dingy hut, Jyothi says she was tortured and physically abused with whips, her body caned, her hair pulled out from her scalp with brute force and her face repeatedly slapped for about three hours. 

“They kept mercilessly beating in spite of me screaming that I am with a child. I repeatedly pleaded to make them understand that I’m not possessed. They threw grey ash on my face and even disrobed me. I managed to escape twice only to be pulled back inside again. Despite me screaming my lungs out the entire time, no one came to my help,” Jyothi narrates in one breath.

When she finally managed to escape the third time around, Jyothi snatched her husband’s shirt to cover herself, picked up her daughter and ran out into the forest in the middle of the night. “I had no idea where I was. I ran to a bungalow and started banging on their door but no one answered. I ran up to their terrace and rested for a while, waiting for dawn. I was desperate for help and scared for my life and my daughter’s safety,” Jyothi shudders.

Early on Friday morning, at 4.30 am, Jyothi ran to Appantirupathi police station to file a complaint. For about two hours she was made to wait outside. Later her husband, the shaman and three of his friends were brought to the station for questioning. However, Jyothi claims that they were neither questioned properly nor arrested. 

“The police, in fact, got the men cigarettes while my mother and I were made to wait outside. They weren’t arrested and I was not aware of FIR being filed that day. However, they did make me sign a couple of papers which I believe was my complaint,” she alleges. 

The police of Appantirupathi, however, tell us the four of the five accused (one of his friend escaped) were arrested on Friday and remanded into judicial custody. An FIR was filed under sections 147 (rioting), 294 (singing of reciting obscene song or ballad in a public place), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act and four of them were produced to the Judicial Magistrate.

“They were granted bail under court direction. In our FIR copy we had also included that the shaman has been duping innocent public for his personal gains in addition to physical violence,” said an officer from the police station. 

Jyothi also tells us that her husband has been missing since and she is not aware of his whereabouts. “I do not know what to do. I don’t think the police can help me. I only hope my nightmares of abuse come to an end,” she says.

Contrary to what newspapers reported after the incident, the events of Thursday were not the result of just one day. While the reports stated that Jyothi’s unresponsive demeanour to her husband’s violence one day lead him to believe that she might be possessed, Jyothi tells us that her husband was waiting for an opportunity to brand her insane.

“He drinks away everything he earns. He brings home very little money and when I try to advise him, he calls me a mad woman. He even tells his friends that I am mentally unstable. When I told him one day that I was having bad dreams and that we should probably go to some temple for good luck, he started a rumour saying I must be possessed for having bad dreams,” she tells us.

Two years of domestic violence

Jyothi who got married in April 2017 was also constantly taunted and abused by her in-laws after marriage for not bringing any dowry. While the match came through a marriage fixer, Jyothi tells us that she was led to believe that the groom was younger than what he actually was. “They told me he was 27 years old when he actually was eight years older than me (30). Also, they were the ones who refused dowry in the first place,” she adds. 

Jyothi, whose father passed away when she was 13, grew up with her mother as an only child. From her hometown which is a few kilometres from Madurai, she moved to Pudur to live with her husband and his family. 

“Witnessing the torture I was subjected to daily, my mother first moved me into a rented house in Pudur. When things got worse, I moved back in with my mother, seven months after getting married. My husband too came along but every once in a week things would get worse with him beating me up. This would happen even while I was pregnant,” alleges Jyothi.

Jyothi’s husband worked as a daily wage labourer in construction sites and whatever he earned, he wasted away in drugs and alcohol. Her repeated requests to him to quit the habit fell on deaf ears. 

Inhumane torture 

Jyothi also tells us about other women who have been tortured by the fraudulent shaman. “While I was there, the woman, who was his helper, told me about other young girls and women who have been treated similarly. In my case, the shaman claimed that I was possessed by 10 different spirits and he’d repeatedly beat and strangle me. It was my worst nightmare,” she recounts. “It is well known that he’s only doing it for the money. When he took me inside, I tried to make him understand that there was nothing wrong with me and if it was money that he was after, I’d give it to him.”

But why does she think her husband started the rumour in the first place? “In September last year, one day, when I could no longer stand him physically abusing me and my child, I went to the police station to file a complaint. While they did not register my complaint, they roughed him up and advised not to beat his wife and child anymore. Until then he only tortured us for no reason but after the incident in the police station, he began taking it out on me as a sort of revenge. I only went to station to protect my child. I bore everything he did to me patiently until then,” she narrates.

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