Place : A sleepy village in the state of Chattisgarh in the largest democracy of the world, India
Time : Just past midnight
A woman rolls on the floor of her small mud house making vague noises and shaking her head. He hair disheveled and clothes barely covering her body. She shudders in uncontrolled frenzy and the entire household watches her ” playing” in fear and silence.
The village elders are informed and she termed as a “Dayan”witch. All the village folks gather with sticks and stones, beat her to pulp and tear her clothes. Stark naked , wounded both physically and emotionally, she lies like a dead animal at the village square while the villagers gather wood to burn her alive.
This is not mediaeval Indian story. It is reality of modern India where women considered to be witches are brutally tortured, beaten, stripped and killed in the name of witchcraft. These women considered to be bad omen are held responsible for failure of crops, epidemics, diseases,low birth rate, and many other things which bring so called bad luck to the village.
Most of these women are either single, widows, aged women and mainly women who are unprotected and closely related to the accusers. Witch-hunting is one of the most brutal forms of violence against women. Most of them are forever ostracised from the society with terrible consequences.
Witch hunting is prevalent in many of the Indian states like chattisgarh, Assam, Orissa, West Bengal, rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra and some of the north- eastern states. Bihar alone accounts for a major chunk of witch hunting cases. Mainly the entire tribal belt of India suffers from the humiliation of this social evil. Acute poverty, little or no access to the most basic health care, education and sanitation are some of the factors leading to witch hunting. In these circumstances, superstition gains a force of its own. Bad crops, death in the family, loss of a child, persistent illness or drying up of wells or any such reason paves the way for this evil–problems are many but the solution remains the same: locate the witch responsible for the problem and punish her.
Socio-economic factors such as land-grabbing, property disputes, personal rivalry and resistance to sexual advances are mainly the reasons for such killings. In the male dominated society if a woman inherits land from her deceased husband is asked to disown the land by her husband’s family or other men. If she resists, they approach the Ojhas (traditional village doctors) and bribe them to brand her a witch.
Apart from this there are some other factors that lead to killing of innocent women by branding them as witches. In some cases women who spurn the sexual advances of the powerful men in the community are labelled and tortured in the name of witchcraft. That’s one way of settling the scores.
I came across Brinda Karant’s article on witch hunting some months ago where she explains the subject at length. Brinda is General secretory of All India Democratic Women’s Association(ADWA) and has worked in the field of women’s rights for a long time.
Do click the link to read more.
Many women who are strong willed, assertive and speak out their minds are seen as threats. The easiest way to eliminate them is to brand them as witch, humiliate and kill. The options left to such women are little. They are either forced to abandon the family and property and run away, commit suicide or are brutally murdered.
In Jharkhand witch hunting has increased in frightening proportions. Many of the adivasis ( tribals) kill women termed as Dains( witches) by the local village doctor called the “Ojha”. The tribal believe in spirits, ghosts and witches and lack of education forces them to do heinous acts against these women. A sick child dreams of four witches and names them. Village elders search for such women and publically parade them naked, their faces smeared. They are tortured, beaten black and blue and beheaded in full view of the entire village .No one speaks against the crime in the name of faith.
The police records record 984 women being killed in 19 districts since 1991 to 2008. Among them 242 women were killed in Ranchi district, 178 in West Singhbhum, 60 in East Singhbhum, 34 in Saraikela-Kharsawan, 127 in Lohardaga, 100 in Gumla, 39 in Simdega, 60 in Palamu, 18 in Garhwa, 10 in Chatra, 15 in Hazaribagh, 16 in Koderma, 15 in Giridih, 6 in Dhanbad, 12 in Bokaro, 16 in Deoghar, 11 in Dumka, 14 in Sahebganj and 11 women were killed in Godda district (omit). The crime enjoys the social and political patronage in the states of Jharkhand and several parts of Bihar etc as there is as much faith in witch-hunt as there is belief in gods. There are no real statistics because mostly the crimes go unreported.
There is a law against witch hunting in almost 28 states but it too has its drawbacks. There is still no central law against this barbarism. Less than 2 percent of those accused of witch-hunting are actually convicted, according to a study by the Free Legal Aid Committee, a group that works with victims in the state of Jharkhand.Most of the time women are unaware of the law and although there are many NGOs like Free Legal Aid Committee (FLAC) working for the this cause, there is still a long way to go.
Witch hunting leaves children orphaned and in my opinion it is one of the most atrocious crimes against women.
The cause of witch hunting is the patriarchal system and it’s been there for centuries now. To prove the authority of men, they suppress women, who resist against the system.
Men use weapons like witch-hunting to get rid of women they fear. In the Adivasi communities, it is largely women who are considered to have an evil influence and thus capable of being witches.
There are some fundamental questions I want to raise .
why is it that only a woman is a witch and man a witch hunter and spirit healer?
Why there is still lack of basic amenities like health, education and social awakening in remote parts of India?
Why can’t there be a central law or at least a strict law to prevent such acts of barbarism?
For How long women of India going to suffer in the the name of faith and under the pressure of male dominated society?