Witch hunt under the veil of superstition
Author: SUPARNA SARKAR
Department of Law, University of North Bengal
The concept of witch-hunting has its traces in past, may it is in any period of time any era. In ancient times, witchcraft or “demonology” was a practice sanctioned by Hindu scriptures, according to the book, Witchcraft: A study in Indian occultism, published in 1981 by RN Salvatore. Witchcraft was also mentioned as a profession in the Rig Veda, an ancient Hindu scripture, and was taught at ancient Indian universities. The idea or the construction of the “witch” as a concept emerged in the mid-1500s, from European Countries. The concept of witch-hunting has been witnessed by people from centuries. The concept of witch-hunting basically arouses in Europe and till date, it is being continued with a tragic consequence.
As India is a developing country, where most areas are filled with illiterate people and they are being guided by superstitions and blind faith, these blind faith’s invokes them to subject the victim’s accused of witchcraft to inhuman atrocities ranging from gang rape, naked parades, beheaded, mob lynching and burning alive. These are being practised in different states like Assam, Orissa, Jharkhand etc. and the victims are called in a different name like ‘Chudail’ ‘Dayan’ ‘Toni’ and by many other names but the zest is that they possess supernatural power which they use to hamper the society. Therefore witch-hunting is a process of killing these people to protect society and people.
But in a real-life if these are being deeply watched, then the reason behind calling these women ‘Dayan’ is that the women are being vulnerable, mostly widow’s become the victim because in many cases they possess land or property on which they have only residential rights, and others wanted to grab this piece of land or property. So, this is the reasons behind for witch hunt in India. So this malpractice must be stopped and for that people must know the actual reason behind it. To make aware of this malpractice these laws should be introduced to each and every interior part of the society.
MEANING OF WITCHCRAFT & WITCH HUNTING:-
India has always been symbolized as the land of mythical legends. It has a profoundly rich history of the superstitious practice, uncanny beliefs and rituals. The word ‘Witchcraft’ consist of two words ‘wicce’ and ‘craft’. ‘Wicce’ has originated from ‘Wicca’ which means ‘witch’ and ‘craft’ refers to ‘ability’. So, witchcraft is the practice and belief in black and the one who possesses such ability is known as witch, wizard or chudail. The meaning of witchcraft is a nonfiction book written by Gerald Gardner, he is also known as “Father of Wicca”. A chudail is an Indian witch or ghost, perhaps there are different belief in different parts of India as in the North East part it is often believed that chudail can change their form and lure young men. However, these things are not scientifically proven.
CAUSES OF WITCH HUNTING:-
There are multiple reasons for a witch hunt in different parts of India. Apart from a traditional blind belief, the reasons sometimes could be of an ulterior motive of some influential people. So, these are the major reasons of witch-hunt in India.
1.Low Rate of Literacy:- As India is a developing country and literacy rate is too low here so superstitious norms get prevail and “Ojha” or “tries to immensely manipulate the mindset of inhabitants or native peoples of tribal communities, hilly areas and tea garden areas there believe still exists over witch-hunting.
2. Old Superstitious Norms: – the superstitious tradition finds breeding around the tribal areas of India, because of their fascinations towards black magic’s. If some misfortune happens around the village or community people starts blaming some vulnerable women and seek help from Ojha or are treated supernaturally.
3. Poverty: – it is one of the most important reasons for witch-hunting. It has been observed during epidemic or pandemic situation a no of women gets murdered in the name of witches. As such poverty makes people believe in “Ojha” as they are easily available rather than a proper medicated doctor.
4. Victimization of women over claim on property and denial of sex:- In India, there is a growth of high rate in the number of witch-hunting cases which had resulted due to clash over claim
For property, as women only possess residential right rather than inheritance right. In present days, branding someone as a witch is becoming a tool to assert domination over other’s property, personal rivalry and to create a new power centre in the village.
There are also instances of witch-hunting being used against families who emerged as powerful, challenging the existing power structure of the village. Further, there are instances, where women are accused of a witch after they deny sex with a man. Many young widows go through this
the problem, when any man approaches them for physical intimacy but ends with rejection those get frustrated and humiliated and tried to accuse this woman of being a witch and spread rumours among the villagers to hunt the witch.
Witch-hunting is stigmatized of specific groups of people, which mostly contains widow women, women who can’t reproduce offspring, old women and the women of a lower caste. Other than this many are targeted due to local politics. It has been witnessed in tribal areas and in rural areas too that if a wild spread disease occurs which cause death of livestock and humans than the allegation develops towards the most vulnerable groups. Witchcraft is more prevalent in states of Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Orissa, Assam, Haryana, Bihar Chhattisgarh, UP and some parts of West Bengal. As per the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) 2018, in Jharkhand there were around 523 women’s became victims of witchcraft. In Haryana, around 26 cases whereas in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa around 23 cases were reported. In Assam, nearly 114women and 79 men were branded as witches and thereafter killed brutally. According to NCRB 2018, witch-hunting cases have been increased as compared to the previous year data.
Also, as per Human Right Committee Report in last 15years around 2,500 women were killed in the veiled of witchcraft. It is generally seen that the person who commits witch-hunting are
Influential people and due to fear of threat and fear of people do not speak against such influential people. As the same situation arouse In, Tula Devi & Ors v. the State of Jharkhand a case was filed under the Jharkhand High Court but the court dismissed the plea on the basis that the victim has failed to prove that the accused her of being a witch and harmed her and there was lack of eyewitness. Another reason behind the lack of evidence is the delay in reporting the incident. Due to the societal pressure, very few cases are being reported and that too after a long gap. In, Madhu Munda v. the State of Bihar Since the informant and his sister were in search of their mother (victim) but they could not get a trace of their mother and as a result of which delay has taken place in lodging of the FIR.
ABSENCE OF NATIONAL LEGISLATION:-
There is no such proper National Legislation that penalizes witchcraft in India but a victim can seek redresses under Indian Penal Code, 1860. The different sections under which a witchcraft victim can seek redresses are section-302 which deals with punishment for murder, section-307 attempt to murder, section-323 punishment for voluntarily causing hurt, section-354 deals outraging a women’s modesty and section-376 which penalizes for rape.
Apart from Indian Penal Code different states took initiative and came up with new provisions to tackle this problem. Earlier India does not possess any such law it was being covered under Indian Penal Code, 1860 and punishment were accordingly granted.
So therefore proper law needs to be made to eradicate such heinous practices from the society. The different states took different initiative like The Prevention of Witch (Dayan) Practices Act, 1999, in Bihar and the same was enacted by the Jharkhand government on 3rd July 2001. Maharashtra is one state that tried to enact a law against such practices some years ago but can’t do so due to the opposition of native people of that place as they think that might harm their culture or customs. The Rajasthan Prevention of Witch Hunting Act came into force in April 2015. The Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Act, 2015 was enacted by the Assam government. THE PREVENTION OF WITCH-HUNTING BILL, 2016 was introduced in Lok Sabah but yet did not become an Act.
It is ironical on one hand that our country is a democratic country talks about equality, right to life and liberty but on the other side, it takes away the same rights of others. Among the states of West Bengal, some areas like Bankura, Birbhum and Purulia witch hunting is still prevalent. Still, the state government has failed to establish separate legislation to tackle it.
Hence, there is a need for National Legislation which will have a binding effect over all the states for prohibiting it.
Different NGO’s work for women whose rights and liberty is being infringed in the basis of sex, caste or in name of customs. Rural Litigation & Entitlement Kendra, which had filed PIL in Supreme Court relating to the abuse of women under the veil of witchcraft hunting. As previously mentioned that few states still do not have a separate law to tackle the societal wrong of witch-hunting though the rate of witch-hunting is high there. And the states which already have enacted laws but are ineffective as it lacks legal backing due to the lack of National Legislation. The ineffectiveness of State Legislation is witnessed through the increasing incident 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 should be considered rigid and rigorous for such crimes. Hence, this adds to the poor implementation of the existing laws.
\ ROLE OF NGO’s:-
As NGO’S tried their best to save victims from witnessing such brutal crimes but sometimes they fail to do so. Perhaps the most famous person to have raised his voice against such heinous crime is Narendra Dabholkar a doctor, a social activist, founder and president of Maharashtra Andhaashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti in the year 1989. The MANS framed the Anti Jadu Tone Bill but was opposed by some other political parties and due to such rivalry, he was murdered. After his death, the bill was considered again. A non-government organization has been active in the state of Jharkhand’s especially in Ranchi to spread awareness towards such archaic practice. Even members of the Free Legal Aid Committee (FLAC) have been visiting the interior parts of the village to promote awareness among the tribal community. An active member of FLAC and an activist Ajay Kumar once said that – “Lot of superstition is practised here. As you can see people in villages are hundred per cent superstitious. Even illiterate people believe in witchcraft, as we have seen in villages. In a few villages where we went to perform skits, people made us run and we had to go to another village to save our lives. So the condition is very serious here”
• Centre for Social Justice is an organization fighting for the rights of marginalized Adivasi women who are being attacked in name of witchcraft. The IPSOWA (IPS Officers Wife Association) working for the welfare of destitute women, has been educating village heads and others in order to eliminate the problem of a witch hunt.
• Birubala Radha is another social activist who creates pressure upon the Assam Government to make strict Anti-Witch Hunt laws within the Territory of Assam.
•Patterns of Law are another organization who works for the right of women and to prevent such malpractice from society.
• Another NGO “Anandi” works for the rehabilitation of survivors of witch-hunting, it is based on Gujarat.
It would not be an adverse proposition to put forth that the aforementioned lines hold even in today’s times with India being an epitome of it. The study throughout has effectively revealed that the crime of witch-hunting is mostly a hoax, a conspiracy to extract money, property, land, etc. from the weaker section of the people. This issue can only be tackled effectively by educating the people, moreover in rural areas and by instilling in them a sense of rationality. First and foremost, the focus of the government should be the strict enforcement of the existing anti-witch-hunting related laws. Sensitization and the responsiveness mechanism of police and Welfare Department Personnel should be formulated. A new approach should be taken by the government like first, one needs to create awareness among local people; second, a legislative framework must be made to tackle the problem; third, the victims must have access to medical intervention; and finally, they must have access to rehabilitation in their communities and support to process their trauma.
Till today the practice of witchcraft hunting is still prevalent in different states of India. The basic reasons for that are lack of National Legislation, lack of issuing reports, ineffective implementation of existing laws, basic education and awareness among peoples.
Therefore this malpractice in India can be solved only by proper implementation of strict Anti-Witchcraft Laws. As witchcraft hunting is more prevalent in interior parts of India so proper education regarding such less discussed topics must be added as a subject in school. So, that awareness can be spread among different individuals and such malpractice may get stopped. Witch-hunting or witch branding is such a phenomenon which ruin the person’s reputation, property, family and life. While standing in the 21st century it is surprising to believe that witch-hunting still exist, when we talk about women empowerment, NARI SAKTI etc. It is also surprising to believe that, this practice is also prevalent among educated people the case of the national athlete Debojani Bora further proves that being national level athlete would neither save one from being a victim of witch branding. However, it is difficult to eliminate such thoughts and thinking and change the mindset but at least we can try to save the lives of innocent people’s.
“Everyone loves a witch hunt as long as it’s someone else’s witch being hunted”.
 According to 2018 report tribal states witnessed the highest rate, http://indpaedia.com/ind/index.php/Witch-hunting:_India (Sep. 08, 2020)
 Madhu munda & ors. v. State of Bihar 2003(3) JCR 156 Jhr.