Witch-hunting: A brutal practice in India even today

Humiliated, brutalised, murdered.

Even in India today, women are prey to witch-hunting and are called as “witches” in our convulated gender dynamics.

The reality is that modernity’s markers are not universal. Literacy, freedom and rights. This is not surprising, considering that India itself is currently experiencing a complicated transition phase. One in which rapid growth and technological progress do not equate to a similar rate of advancement in terms of education and expanding social attitudes.

By being identified as witches, women are murdered and especially targeted. Anything that occurs suddenly that does not benefit a person or a family is related to the witch being the woman (daughter-in-law/wife). She’s the one who’s unfortunate and blamed for all the mishaps.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) registered over 2,000 ‘witchcraft-motivated murders’. Across 17 states from 2001 to 2014, with the majority of victims being women. A field report by Partners for Law in Development (PLD), a Delhi-based legal resource group, called it the proverbial tip of a very deep iceberg. Much of the reality is hidden by available data. There are only the most gruesome cases reported. Most go unreported and unrecorded.

Superstition or illiteracy alone is not what spurs it. A PLD study notes that “superstition is only one component of a complex narrative. There is a counter-narrative of motives for every instance of witch-hunting.”

Widows, who are usually the victims of the spiteful “witch hunting” activity, are entitled to a share in the property of their late husband. The fact that a widow, by virtue of the property she has inherited, acquires a relative amount of economic powers raises the eyebrows of a number of envious men who do not themselves have such resources at their disposal and do not enjoy them.

A researcher calls it “an outlet for men living in poverty to vent their frustrations. And women are simple targets.” Some claim, it has a close relation with land rights, targeting single women for land grabbing.

Whenever a calamity hits the village, people, usually women, are targeted and branded as ‘witches’ . Whether it be death, disease or drought.

Many times, women suffering from mental illness are still victims and survivors of witch hunts.

  • For local residents to assemble as a mob and pursue blood-thirsty violence and hunt a “witch”, typically a non-dominant caste woman, one word from an Ojha is enough to bring her to “justice.”

    Patriarchy, financial disputes, superstition, and other personal and social conflicts are rooted in witch-hunting. These disputes occur more often than not from envy or tension between the victim and their family, friends or acquaintances.

    It is also important to remember that the product of age-old myths or deep-rooted stereotypical notions about women and prejudice against women is modern witch hunting.

    Ill-treated, tagged as witches, publicly boycotted, taunted, these are forms of prejudice where grudges are spelled out against the woman when she does not obey the new family’s traditions.

    While immediate members of the family normally protect victims, they do so at considerable risk to themselves. If some individuals are trying to track down “witches” and give them nothing but pain and suffering.

Then we hope that others will step forward and forever stop this “tradition.”

How long will we allow such barbaric acts to occur in a country that looks into the future?

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