A YouTube channel named Wonder of Stories that hosts bedtime cartoons about chudails for children has become a huge hit in India. With over 1.14 million subscribers and some episodes garnering nearly 7 million views, the series is quite popular. The content, being spoon-fed to its subscribers — kids with young, impressionist minds — is not just problematic, but downright offensive, too.
Although the word ‘witch’ has found certain ‘political correctness’ in the West, in India, there is real and present danger because the word chudail is used too often and too loosely here. Whether it is Rhea Chakraborty or Kangana Ranaut being called chudails, or women in the northeast, West Bengal or Jharkhand being murdered even today because villagers label them as chudails. I am sure most Indians did not see it as a problem when Farhan Akhtar shouted “chudail alert” in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.
The description for the YouTube channel Wonder of Stories calls the series ‘moral stories’ — but you wouldn’t think so if you saw the portrayal of the women in these videos.
Chudails in the videos have been shown to be preying upon random men they could lay their hands on, while some were even possessing young women to marry ‘handsome’ men. They were also shown as vengeful, seeking revenge for the injustice caused to them when they were alive, and in some stories, chudails were even eating up children.
This is not to say that horror and ghost stories should not exist, but not to have an understanding of the social fallout on part of the makers of such stories is just being deliberately blind.
The cost women pay for being called chudails
The narrative of chudail, dayan and bhootni has been used since times immemorial to demonise women, police them and shame them into socially acceptable behaviour.
Women have been branded as witches, especially in rural India. There have been numerous appalling incidents of women being demonised, ostracised, and even lynched by mobs who label them as witches or accuse them of practising witchcraft.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau data, 2,290 people — mostly women — were allegedly killed between 2001 and 2014 for practising witchcraft.
In stark contrast, the West has approached the ‘witch’ narrative in a progressive way, particularly in children’s literature — J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and the classic fairy tale Hansel and Gretel by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm hold proof of that fact.
The chudail videos of Wonder of Stories, which have raked in millions of views, have titles such as Pregnant Chudail, Sali Nikli Chudail (sister-in-law turns out to be chudail), The Witch’s Honeymoon, Flying Witch’, Chudail Se Shaadi, Dwarf Witch, and so on.
Watching a few episodes was enough to repulse me. The episode Sali Nikli Chudail is about two sisters, who are twins and in love with the same man. The man, however, loves one of them and so, the jilted sister kills her sibling, who later becomes a chudail. The episode also shows a man discussing how lucky he feels getting married to the ‘most beautiful woman’ in the village, unlike his friend who got married to a “kaluti” (a dusky woman). Yes, this is what children are hooked onto.
The episode Pregnant Chudail shows how an expecting witch gives away her ‘child’ to a woman, who is tortured by her in-laws because they want a boy. The in-laws poison their daughter-in-law and kill the baby in her womb, assuming that it’s a girl.
In another episode, titled Chudail ki beti (witch’s daughter), a woman is murdered by her in-laws, who then bury the body in their own backyard. The woman then takes the shape of a chudail to avenge her killers — an age-old, hackneyed concept of vengeful spirits always being women.
I wonder how these stories qualify as fun bedtime tales for children. Having a child’s fantasy world being bombarded with pregnant chudails, interlaced with saas-bahu melodrama and foeticide, can have dangerous impact for years.
Clearly, the showrunners didn’t bother to think about the harm they might inflict on a child’s psychology.
Few stories on male bhoots
What was also surprising was that just a handful of the videos on the channel depict male bhoot (ghosts). Portrayal of men as ghosts is rare in folklore as well as in popular horror flicks or shows.
Our society, in fact, has no words to describe men with supernatural powers. In the West, we have words such as wizard, sorcerer and genies, but they certainly don’t carry the same stigma like chudail or dayan.
Bedtime spooky stories shouldn’t just entertain, they need to add to a child’s psychological growth too. This makes it imperative for parents or guardians to YouTube the right series. No one wants their children to grow up and call women ‘witches’.
Views are personal.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.