‘Are you a witch?’ This could happen to you

Doesn’t mean to sound fun or entertaining, because it really isn’t. Calling women witches has suddenly become commonplace in modern India. It’s like a reinventing the wheel, and going back centuries when logic was blinded by beliefs. Labelling women witches and hunting them down seems to have returned in states of Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh. Last year, a case of a woman’s beheading was heard of in Assam. The woman was taken for a witch. [Pic Credit: Avaaz Images]

There are state acts in place for protection of women from the brutalities that come with the label of a ‘witch’. Maharashtra and Odisha recently put in place laws that prohibit such superstitious practice.  The National Commission for women has been pushing for these rights for a while now. However, there is no national law that addresses this issue which affects the most vulnerable women on Indian society.

Witch hunting of women in India

The brutality of witch-hunting in or gendered society

A study published on witch hunting in the EPW, conducted by Partners for Law in Development (PLD) and funded by the Ministry of Women and Child brought to light some key issues around the subject.

Broadly, the phenomena basically affects rural women. Except for a few, 86% of all cases of witch hunting so far have been women. A majority of targets include married, middle-aged rural women.

Picture this. If you are a woman in rural India and are accused of being a witch, you could also have to undergo some next level humiliation with villagers doing things to you like forced disrobing, parading, blackening of face, tonsuring the hair, breaking teeth, forcing consumption of dirty water and excreta. You might not even be allowed to access community resources like well water and face loss of property and livelihood. Your family is doomed too.

But why do people indulge in such inhuman, barbaric and evil form of violence?

Well, it emanates from irrational superstitions of people. Looking from a gendered lens, these are also often means of usurping property held by single or childless women. Most common sources of tension between the alleged witch and the person allegating her were found to be land, property, jealousy, sexual advances, etc. In short, more often than not, a woman in rural India is cat called, beaten up and sometimes even killed because of some family dispute or stress.

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But why don’t they understand that it is completely irrational?

Findings reveal that the areas in which witch-hunting happens also intersect with each other on poor sanitation, health, education and large scale poverty. Occurrences like sudden illness or death become inexplicable to them, and they tend to rationalize them by oppressing women (I am guessing they are easier scapegoats).

Witchcraft is one thing, in India we call and kill women in the name of witches

Witchcraft is one thing, in India we call and kill women in the name of witches

But you said there are laws…

Implementation of existing laws is failing. People are still operating on irrational beliefs, without the fear of consequence or the law. How is the woman affected? Well, apart from losing her property and social dignity, she has to face ostracization, stigma and isolation. It becomes almost impossible for a woman to walk down the streets of her village without a local abuse or sexual slur being hurled at her.

Don’t begin to blame the Indian society just yet. This is still a global issue spanning Sub-Saharan Africa, Amazonas, New Papa Guinea, even New York and so many nations globally. Which is why what it needs is a mindset change globally.