This article is written by Rimjhim Vaishnavi, a 2nd year student of National University for Study and Research in Law (NUSRL), Ranchi
The concept of witch hunting has its traces in past, may it be primitive age, medieval age, modern age and now industrial age, the concept of witchcraft and the incidence of witch-hunting has been witnessed. Witch hunting is considered as an infectious disease which is slowly spreading to newer areas. The concept of witch hunting initially aroused in Europe and till date it is being continued with tragic consequences. In early Europe the woman who were against the church were considered as witches, were regarded as one who brings misfortune and thus to protect the society those woman were burnt. Later on women were held responsible for all the calamities let it be famine, flood, and epidemic diseases which caused death of livestock. And the only solution of coming out from this dismay was by killing them who were responsible for it. Further it was seen that incidents which could not be answered was thought to be the act of women who were having supernatural power and gradually this concept was bedded in the society and which still has mark able effect in society.
WITCH-HUNTING IN INDIA
India is a land where the women are treated as symbol or are considered as a token of their community, family, caste and all other diverse divisions. Where people on one hand worship them in name of Goddesses on the other hand kill them considering them witch. This practice of killing is not new for Indian society rather it has its deep roots in history. Initially when the concept of witch was discussed people thought of ugly women with a broom who can fly, who can disappear. Now the concept has changed a bit, witch now denotes women who acquire supernatural powers and are indulged in evil practices which are omen. It is believed that they are associated to negative energy and for their betterment and for enhancing their power they kill innocent members of society. The may be called in different names as ‘Chudail’, ‘Dayan’, Tohni’, etc. but the zest is that they possess supernatural powers which they use to hamper others. Therefore Witch Hunting is a process of killing these people in order to protect the society from being harmed by them. In name of witch hunting people kill innocent women, rape them, to acquire their property and some time it is being used as a tool for vengeance.
Witch hunting is stigmatization of specific groups of people, which mostly contains widowed women, women who are childless, old couples, women of lower caste. Other than this many are targeted due to local politics. It has been witnessed in tribal and rural areas that if wild spread diseases occur or famine occurs which causes death of animals as well as human the allegation develops on the most vulnerable people of the society for witch craft and then violence. Witch hunting is more prevalent in 12 states of India which are situated in like Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Rajasthan and U.P. the governments most recent report indicates that about 119 people were killed in the year 2012 in name of witch hunting and around 1,700 women were murdered for witchcraft during 1991-2010. These data shows the recorded cases, there are many instances which have never been recorded as due to the fear.
SOME INSTANCES OF WITCH-HUNTING IN PAST FEW YEARS
Areas which are tribal and rural, where literacy rate is low and where people are guided by blind faith and superstition, these blind faiths invokes them to subject the victims accused of witchcraft to inhuman atrocities ranging from gang rape, mob lynching, naked parades, blackening of face, shaving of head, beheading and burning alive and coercing to consume human excreta. It is ironical on one hand our country being a democratic country talks about equality, right to life and liberty but on the other hand it takes away the same rights of others.
As per the report of National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) 2008, in Jharkhand there were 52 witchcraft related murders, in Haryana around 26 cases of witch-hunting was reported, whereas in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa 23 cases were reported, in Madhya Pradesh 17, in Chhattisgarh 15, in Maharashtra 11 and in West Bengal and Meghalaya 4 and 3 respectively. According to NCRB, government of India the instances of witch- hunting has increased when compared to previous years data.
Also as per Human Right Committee report in last 15 years approximately 2,500 women in were killed in name of witch-hunting. Previously it was seen that witch-hunting is only associated to women but in 2013 in Orissa police reported a case where a boy was killed as he was accused of practicing witchcraft. Statistics also display a case in Assam were a girl was raped in name of witch-hunting in 2011.
LEGISLATIVE APPROACH TO WITCH-HUNTING
There is no specific and particular national level legislation that penalises Witch hunting hence the provisions under the Indian Penal Code 1860 can be used as an alternative for the victim. The different sections invoked in such cases are Sec.302 which charge for murder, Sec307 attempt for murder, Sec 323 hurt, Sec 376 which penalises for rape and Sec. 354 which deals with outraging a woman’s modesty.
Apart from the provisions under Indian Penal Code different states have come up with different legislation to tackle the problem of witch hunting.
- Bihar though being most backward was the first state in India to pass a law against witch hunting in the year 1999, which was named “Prevention of Witch (Dayan) Practices Act.”
- Jharkhand followed it and established “Anti Witchcraft Act” in 2001 to protect women from inhuman treatment as well to provide victim legal recourse to abuse. Basically Section 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the concerned Act talks about the punishment which will be granted if any one identify someone as witch, tries to cure the witch and any damages caused to them. Whereas Section 7 states the procedure for trial.
- Chhattisgarh government passed a bill in 2005 named “Chhattisgarh Tonhi Pratama Bill”, which was established to prevent atrocities on women in name of Tonhi.
- Rajasthan government has also passed a bill “Rajasthan Women (Prevention and Protection from Atrocities)” 2006,which makes it illegal as well punishable for calling any woman as “dayan” or to accuse a woman for practicing witchcraft, which extends to three years of imprisonment and Rs 5000 fine.
- Till now there is no specific laws enacted in Maharashtra against witch-hunting and the sole reason behind it is opposition from some religious groups who believes that the enacted law might take away their ancient rites Now after the incidents of witch-hunting has increased the state government has planned to pass a bill to eradicate the social ills and human sacrifice.
- Among the states where witch-hunting is prevalent, some areas of West Bengal like Purulia, Bankura and Birbhum comes under the ambit of those states. Still the state government has failed to establish a separate legislation to tackle it. Hence, there is a need of national legislation which will have a binding effect over all the states in prohibiting it.
All these acts not only prohibit one from directly hampering a woman but also punishes the one who instigates other to harm them, to displace her from the house place and property. At the same time it is punishable if due to torture a woman commits suicide
Apart from these state legislation there are other bodies established to prevent witch-hunting and promote protection to women and to ensure those rights necessary for them to live a peaceful life with dignity.
- Partner for Law in Development (PLD) 1998, which is a group of legal resource working for social justice and women’s right in India. It considers women’s rights as an integral part of the society and hence protects women’s right from getting violated through families, on basis of sexuality, culture, caste, etc.
- Other than this many NGO’s are working for preventing and protecting women from the social evil of witch-hunting.one among those is Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra, which had also filled a PIL in Supreme Court relating to the abuse of women in name of witch-hunting on behalf of 1000 rural women in Jharkhand who were victimised of witch-hunting.
- Apart from these NGO’s and some local bodies working against witch hunting, a bill “Prevention and Prohibition of Witch-Hunting” has been drafted by members of Human Rights Defence International, which is still pending. It aims at establishing national legislation relating to witch-hunting.
The Indian government has an obligation to protect women from discrimination on the basis of gender and also provide basic rights and security granted by different international treaties, covenant and laws.
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948, which being international law provides protection against any discrimination and promotes equality before law. It also confirms right to life and liberty to every human being.
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), India associated with it in 1979, which being an international body promotes equality between men and women by ensuring equal rights to men and women in civil as well as political sphere and prohibits others from subsuming anyone’s basic rights. Article 7 explicitly mentions prohibition of cruelty, inhuman or degrading treatment and by associating with the covenant it is obligatory for Indian government to implement these rules.
- In addition to UDHR and ICCPR, India has signed Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on 1993 and had agreed to eliminate discrimination and social cruelty against women. In addition to it Sec.5 (a) of the concerned convention explicitly provides that the states should take appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women.
Hence not only protection of women is obligatory but also it is obligatory to affirm different actions which have been designed for ensuring the enjoyment of rights in a positive manner.
WHY WITCH HUNTING IS STILL BEING CONTINUED?
- The question of evidence – In order to punish one for practicing witch hunting, the court needs proof. In case of witch hunting, it is a crime which is socially manifested hence out of either fear or acceptance of the practice people remain silent, which becomes huddle in collecting evidences. Hence due to lack of evidence proper justice is not achieved. Apart from it generally it is seen that the person who commits witch hunting are influential people and due to the fear and threat of those people no speaks against them. As in a case of Tula Devi& Ors. v. State of Jharkhand, a case of brought in Jharkhand High Court were the court dismissed the case on the basis that the victim has failed to prove that the accused her of being witch and harmed her and there was lack of eyewitness.
Another reason behind lack of evidence is delay in reporting the incident. Due to the geographical reason and societal pressure very few incidents are reported and that too after a long gap, hence it makes the witness testimony unreliable, which was a ground for not convicting the accused in Madhu Munda v. State of Bihar.
- Absence of National Legislation – As it has been mentioned earlier India does not have any specific national legislation or laws for preventing witch hunting. It is being covered under the sections of Indian Penal Code and according to it punishment are being granted. Therefore there is a need of proper legislation to eradicate this heinous practice from the society.
This failure to establish a specific law relating to witch-hunting violates several core rights provided by different international treaties and conventions, which includes the right to non-discrimination, the right to security, the right to life, right to access national tribunals and the most important right to live a decent life free from cruel and inhuman treatment.
- Poor implementation of prevalent laws – as mentioned above few states still does not have a separate law to tackle with the societal wrong of witch-hunting, though the rate of witch-hunting is high there. And the states which have enacted laws and not effective as it lacks legal backing due to lack of national legislation. The ineffectiveness of states legislation is witnessed through the increasing incidents of witch-hunting after its implementation over states.
Also due to the quantum of punishment which is granted to the accused is lesser than the gravity of crime they have committed, as the punishment merely extends upto 1 year with a fine of Rs.1000, which lack to set deterrence in society. Hence, this adds to the poor implementation of the existing laws.
Till date the practice of witch-hunting is still prevalent in India. The reasons behind it are lack of national legislation, lack of evidence and issuing of report, ineffective implementation of established rules. Hence the problem can be solved by strict enforcement as well as implementation of Anti-witchcraft law which will also prevent witch-hunting practices, also by sensitizing of police and welfare department and establishment of NGO’s who will work for sensitization purpose. As witch hunting are more prevalent in backward areas to raise awareness witchcraft can be added as a subject in school as it is necessary to change the perspective of society and believe over superstition. However it is very difficult to eliminate believes prevalent from centuries in the society but we can try to eliminate by taking above mentioned steps.
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- Crime in India 2012 Statistics, National Crime Records Bureau. Online at
- Rakesh k. Singh, “Witch-Hunting: Alive and Kicking”
- International Law Memorandum: Jharkhand’s Obligation to Prevent Witch-Hunting.
- “India needs national law against witch hunts and other superstitious practices”, 22nd June, 2011, The Telegraph.
- Contemporary Practices of Witch-Hunting-a report on Social Trend & the Interface with Law, 2013.
 2006 (3) JCR 222
 2003 (3) JCR 156