If I am to live through an afterlife it should be as a churel demon, so I can seek vengeance on behalf of mistreated women across the globe.
By Sarah Khan
Like all other cultures, South Asia has its own selection of other-worldly monsters to scare children (and even some adults). None of them really ever frightened me because they all seemed to have a reason for being the way they are. The one that intrigues me the most of them all is the churel. While in Pakistan, churel is also the word for a living witch, I’m going to talk about the ghostly demon in this piece because this female demon is the man-hating, anti-patriarchy, badass ghost that I kinda hope to become when I pass away.
Who Is the Churel?
The legend of the churel reportedly started in Persia, but is currently most prominent in South Asia, specifically India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. She is said to be the ghost of a wronged woman, usually one who dies during or just after childbirth. A woman can also come back as a churel if she was mistreated by relatives during her lifetime or if she was sexually dissatisfied. Because of this fear, families were encouraged to take extra good care of women relatives, such as daughters-in-law, especially pregnant ones.
Why Is She So Scary?
The churel is an ugly, horrific-looking creature who can take any shape she pleases. In Pakistan, it’s legend adds on that she cannot change her feet, which are pointed backwards. For this reason, she’s also known as pichal peri, which literally means “back footed.” Generally, the churel will take the form of a traditionally beautiful woman in order to lure men into secluded forested areas. Some say that she’s not malicious while most folklore about her say that she’s vengeful and returns to kill the men in her family, starting with those who wronged her when she was alive.
How Does a Woman Become a Churel?
The most common reasons women come back as churels is if they die during childbirth (sometimes also if they die during pregnancy) or in the 12 days after childbirth, when she is considered “impure”, according to Indian superstition. Other reasons a churel is created is if the woman is unfairly treated by her relatives and even if she is not sexually satisfied. For this reason, when a woman is pregnant, she is taken extra-good care of in order to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy and birth. It’s also the reason why families are likely to actively be humane to the women in their families.
Why Is the Churel My Feminist Heroine?
The fact that people need to be scared by an urban legend into being decent to the women in a family is appalling in itself, but I like to think that the legend of the churel was created by women in order to scare men into treating them like human beings. Women have long been considered second-class citizens and little less than incubators for babies, so I don’t blame women for potentially creating a terrifying demon to scare people into treating them with basic humanity.
The idea that a witchy demon who can shape-shift and lures men to their demise exists in a culture that is so blatantly misogynistic is refreshing. While there are those who are deeply engrossed in the misogynistic cultures of South Asia, and even women who have ingrained misogyny they’ve not unlearned (or are simply unaware that it’s there to begin with), will still fear the churel and think of her as something evil and unsavory, I myself find her a breath of fresh air.
As a being that is most likely to be fictional (I say most likely because personally I want to believe she’s real so badly), the churel is doing what many living women (and men) are unable to do: petition for humane and equal treatment for themselves.
Though I’ve been treated pretty damn well by my family in my lifetime, a part of me still wishes that if I am to live through an afterlife it should be as a churel demon, so I can seek vengeance on behalf of mistreated women across the globe.
Author Bio: Sarah Khan is a Toronto-based editor and writer, a Marxist of the Groucho tendency, and raging intersectional feminist killjoy. You can follow her on Twitter @sarathofkhan.