It has been published by Rachit Garg.
Table of Contents
In our society, witch-hunting is known and identified as gender violence. Gender violence is a broad concept that includes a gamut of violations ranging from intimate partner abuse to rape or gang rape in a public transport system or a brick kiln in a village. Cultural customs such as the forced purdah system, restricting movement, female genital mutilation, and the inhuman practice of bride burning, child marriage, and human trafficking of minor girls and women into the flesh trade in cities are forms of gender-based violence. Violence against women is deeply entrenched in our social systems. Gender violence is now more profoundly confirmed and informed with increased frequency by mass media penetration in our lives. Gender violence exists and recurs everywhere.
Witch hunting, a practice steeped in superstition, fear, and ignorance, continues to plague various parts of India, even in the 21st century. This article delves deep into the phenomenon of witch hunting, shedding light on its historical origins, sociocultural underpinnings, and the legal framework in India. Despite being a crime, hunting remains a gruesome reality, particularly in rural areas, where innocent individuals, often women, face persecution, torture, and even death on accusations of practising witchcraft. This comprehensive analysis seeks to understand the reasons behind the persistence of this heinous practice and explore the legal mechanisms in place to combat it.
Historical origins of witch hunting
The first case was found in 1886. When one soldier’s wife, named Kunkoo, was ill, she could not go to the doctor for treatment but some of the believers in witchcraft washed the brain of this lady and asked, “put her hands in boiling oil and swung for days.” Witch hunting, although not unique to India, has manifested differently in various parts of the world. In India, it can be traced back to ancient times, where references to witches, sorcerers, and black magic can be found in mythological and historical texts. Belief in supernatural powers and magic has deep roots in Indian culture, which has contributed to the perpetuation of witch hunting. The study will explore how these ancient beliefs have evolved over time and merged with societal norms, leading to the persecution of individuals labelled as witches.
Understanding the sociocultural factors that fuel witch hunting is crucial for devising effective strategies to combat it.
- Gender discrimination: Witch hunts predominantly target women, often elderly or socially marginalised, who are accused of practising witchcraft. The study will examine the gender dynamics at play and the intersection of witchcraft and patriarchy.
- Superstitious and belief systems: Deep- seated superstitions, reliance on traditional healers and fear of the unknown contribute to the sustenance of witch hunting. An exploration of these beliefs and their role in perpetuating violence will be undertaken.
- Socioeconomic factors: Witch hunting is often linked to disputes over land, property, or resources. Examining the socioeconomic factors that lead to the branding of individuals as witches is essential for understanding the root causes of these practises.
- Community dynamics: Witch hunting often involves the active participation of communities, making it a collective crime. The study will investigate how community dynamics and pressures contribute to the perpetuation of witch hunts.
Legal framework of witch hunting in India
At present, six states Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Odisha and Assam—have specific laws targeting witch hunting, including Maharashtra and Karnataka has legislation broadly covering witch-hunting along with other superstitions.
The legal framework in India includes provisions to address witch hunting, but their effectiveness remains a subject of debate.
Legal provision: The Indian Penal Code of 1860, as well as specific state laws, contain provisions criminalising witch hunting and their enforcement.
Presently, Section 323 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, is used to deal with witch-hunting.
Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code lays down the punishment for deliberate and malicious acts that are intended to outrage the religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. It is one of the hate speech laws in India.
A jail term extending up to three months or a fine of Rs 1,000 is mentioned for those who caused harm to a woman by branding her a witch. The law was cognizable and non-bailable meaning a police officer could make an arrest without a warrant, and bail is not automatic given the serious nature of the offence
Examining past cases and judicial responses to witch hunting will provide insights into the judiciary’s role in addressing this issue.
Challenges and implications: Despite legal safeguards, witch hunting continues unabated. This section will explore the challenges in implementing the law, including issues related to reporting, investigation, and witness protection.
Role of NGOs and activists: Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and activists are actively involved in the fight against witch hunting.
Impact on witch hunting victims and communities
Witch hunting has devastating consequences for both victims and communities. The study will include a comprehensive analysis of the physical, psychological, and social impact of witch hunting on survivors. It will also examine the broader consequences for communities, including social fragmentation and mistrust.
Major case studies on witch hunting
Some journalist reports narrate the horrors of witch hunting in different states of India, particularly in Jharkhand. State wise events are described here.
|Lata Sahu, a dalit woman in Raipur, Madhya Pradesh, contested the polls against the wishes of landowning castes. She was condemned as a witch, stripped and beaten.
|A woman was hired by a man to use magic to improve his ill wife’s health. When his wife’s condition worsened, he began beating the woman, and five other locals joined in the abuse. She was tied to a tree, and she was slapped repeatedly and had her hair cut.
|August 20, 2010
|Kamla Bairwa, a dalit woman, after being dubbed a ‘witch’ by fellow villagers, was brutally thrashed by three men and two women at Jhalara village in Tonk district of Rajasthan. She was tied to a tree and thrashed mercilessly. In her complaint lodged at the Uniara police station, she complained that the villagers, particularly women, would call her a “dayan”, insult her, and beat her up. She feared that she would be killed by the villagers.
|March 11, 2010
|A Dalit husband and wife named Saheedi Bhuiyan and Samanti Bhuiyan were murdered in Jorapur village in Palamu, Jharkhand. The villagers killed them on suspicion of witchcraft. Three people who had their faces covered barged into their hut at night and took them away. Their bodies were found about 33 kilometres away from their home.
|In July 2012
|An elderly man and his wife were forced to ingest human urine and excrement in Jharkhand. The two were accused of practising witchcraft, which supposedly resulted in the death of local livestock.
|In August 2012
|In another village in Jharkhand, a man was pulled out of his house and buried alive for allegedly practising witchcraft.
|In August 2013
|Two women in their fifties were killed by three boys. According to the police, the father of one boy was ill and the other two boys’ fathers were dead. Believing the women were to blame, they “questioned those women about their involvement in witchcraft practises, but they refused to speak. This infuriated the boys, who first strangled them and later slit their throats.
|A boy was killed in the same state and police arrested two people accused of the murder for killing him “for the purpose of human sacrifice.”
|On August 7, 2015
|In Mandar village near Ranchi, a mob of villagers dragged out five women from their houses and lynched them to death, suspecting them to be involved in witchcraft and causing the death of a sick boy.
|Five women were lynched at Mandar village near Ranchi by a mob of nearly 100 men. Police arrested about 27 attackers, many of whom were students at Mandar College. Ranchi deputy commissioner Manoj Kumar said though many women, particularly widows, are usually killed over family disputes and land grabs on the pretext of ‘witch hunts’, this particular incident was born out of pure superstition as the villagers accused them of using ‘black magic’ on children, causing illnesses and fatalities among them. The villagers were provoked by the death of an 18-year-old boy who had fallen ill. Jharkhand State Women’s Commission chairperson Mahua Manjhi opined that a stringent policy was needed to end such incidents. She blamed lack of education, awareness and road connectivity to towns and cities, besides unemployment, as reasons behind ‘dayan bisahi’ (the superstition of witchcraft) in the state.
To illustrate the multifaceted nature of witch hunting in India, the study will present case studies from different regions, showcasing the diversity of experiences and challenges faced by victims and communities.
Drawing from the findings of the study, a set of recommendations will be proposed, aimed at eradicating witch hunting in India. These recommendations will encompass legal reforms, community awareness programmes, and initiatives to address the root causes of this practise. The study will conclude by emphasising the importance of a concerned effort by government authorities, civil society and communities to put an end to this barbaric tradition.
In a nation striving for progress and social justice, the persistence of witch hunting serves as a stark reminder of the challenges that lie ahead. This socio legal study seeks to contribute to the ongoing discourse on witch hunting in India and, ultimately, pave the way for its eradication through a combination of legal reforms and societal transformation.
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