Witchcraft in INDIA: An Alarming Reality

INTRODUCTION

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

-Bible (Exodus 22:18)[1]

She was a woman. She was strong, not conventionally, but, with strength of the spirit. She was fearless and knowledgeable alike. Much so, that the men feared her, they feared her strength and her valour. They feared her bravado and impenetrable spirit. She was inquisitive. She was heretic alike. Indeed yes, her beliefs were. She wanted to live the way men of her times were privileged to live. And yes, she got her shares of laurels, for being who she was. Captured, raped, tortured, strangulated, socially ostracised, burnt alive. Indeed, the rewards she yielded were novel and resplendent.

And such was the fate of great women, valourous women, women who dared to think out of the box and to speak, who dared to live life on their own terms. The aforementioned account is not merely a piece of prose reproduced here, but, an alarming reality- A reality spanning decades, centuries, one year after another, a reality of countless women spanning international boundaries and borders. The reality of Joan of Arc, of Agnes Sampson, of Merga Bien, of the Salem Witches- brandished and burnt alive.

And even today, it still continues to persist. Not in the flashy suburbs of cosmopolitan cities, but, in the hidden nooks and corners of the world. Somewhere still, in a village thriving on fire lamps, in a tribal population residing in the vicinity of forests, even so, in the neighbourhood of a usual modern-day Indian town.

India is no exception to such superstitious practices and beliefs, pervading the wild imagination of the human psyche on a macrocosmic level across the world. Instances of witch-hunting related violence are manifold and multifarious happening just beneath our noses. The only difference being today that unlike the earlier times, the victims of this horrendous crime of witch-hunting today are poor women, weak women, illiterate women, old women and the like.

 “I was about 50 years old, when they branded me as witch. I didn’t know that I am a witch and they caught hold of me and tortured for two days. I was chased out of the house and it took a legal battle of eight long years for me to come back to my home. I sold all my ornaments to fight the case and get back my home”, told a victim who had to go through the silent evil of witch-hunting while she was being counselled after a long battle she fought and won.[2]

As contradictory as it may seem, the word ‘witch’ derives from the word ‘Wicca’ of Old English origin which implies- a wise person. A witch-hunt is a search for persons labelled “witches” or evidence of witchcraft, often involving moral panic.[3] When one talks of burning witches in a developed society, they often consider it to be passé and a thing of the past. Yet, older women, usually widows are flagrantly branded as witches. Though, in smaller numbers, even males and children have borne the brunt of such superstitious practices. India, today, represents a modern-day paradox. On one hand, it is the largest democracy in the world and has a rapidly growing economy. On the other hand, a huge chunk of its populace remains marred by poverty and illiteracy. Indians, both educated and uneducated, have time and again resorted to superstitious practices to cure illness, find love, and rationalize bad events. This modern superstitious belief system has had deadly consequences mnemonic of the witchcraft craze in America. A person accused of being a ‘dayan’ or a witch in India can be subjected to immeasurable torture, rape or can be strangulated and burned alive.

Witch-hunting is like an infectious disease and is slowly spreading to newer areas and solutions will have to be found to eradicate this evil practice.[4] The practice of witch hunting/ killings is prevalent in a number of states in the country, and with much preponderance in the regions located in central and eastern India. This crime is mostly prevalent in places where there is almost negligible economic development, with little or no access to basic education and health care. In this kind of an environment of minimal development and redundancy, people tend to develop very strong superstitious beliefs and anything bad that might befall the villagers like inadequate crop harvest, diseases, sudden and unexplained death of someone in the family, or drying of wells tends to be considered the work of some evil ‘witch’. This, therefore, marks the beginning of efforts to search for a perpetrator to put the blame on.

It is true that allegations about the use or at least possession of ‘supernatural’ powers by the victim are invariably present in cases of witch hunting. But, what emerges during investigations in most of the cases is that land, property, jealousy, sexual advances and other common tensions between social inmates were pivotal underlying factors. Thus, the essay would further delve into the underlying criminality of such witch hunts, propagated due to lack of education and awareness and most of the time for fulfilling vindictive and malicious purposes.

Witch- The word not to be spoken…

India has always been symbolised as the land of mythical legends and snake-charmers. It has a profoundly rich history, replete with fables, rituals, traditions and uncanny superstitious practices. Witches in the Indian subcontinent are referred to as Chudail or Chudel (pronounced as chew-dale). In many places they are also referred to as Daayan (pronounced as dye-en). There are fundamental conceptual differences with regard to the use of these terms in the society regardless of their common origin. A Chudail is an Indian witch or a female ghost and is believed to arise from the death of a woman due to some mishaps. There is a lot of variation in the Indian witch stories, all having their unique reasonings and fate. For e.g. the north Indian states often believe that the Chudail can change its physical form and lure young men. Once she lures them into a lonely place, she pounces on them to either kill or have physical contact with them, in which the victim is supposedly drained off his life. However, much of these beliefs are figments of outdated notions and have no cogent scientific or factual backing to assert the same.

Witches can usually be classified into three broad categories, as regards the popular perceptions of people across various classes and social strata in India. These types are enunciated as under-

  • The “neighbourhood witch” or “social witch”: a witch who has some sort of rivalry with the neighbouring people or the people living in the vicinity, curses the neighbours following that conflict. In other words, these are the result of neighbourhood tensions.
  • The “magical” or “sorcerer” witch: a professional healer, sorcerer, seer or midwife, or a person who has through magic increased her fortune to the perceived detriment of a neighbouring household; due to neighbourly or community rivalries and the ambiguity between positive and negative magic, such individuals can be labelled as witches.
  • The “supernatural” or “night” witch: these are the witches about whom a primary thought of evil nature comes in our minds, primarily associated with visions and dreams, and in many parts of India and the rest of the world supernatural witches became an ideology explaining calamities that befell entire communities.

According to Fiderici, a UN report stated that more than 25000 fell prey to witch-killings that occurred between 1987 and 2003 in India[5] and the actual figures can be much more as many were tortured, traumatised and maimed which were not reported to the authorities and don’t find a place in official statistical records.

‘Witch-Hunting’: Scapegoating of the Innocent

In popular imagination, witchcraft is often associated with the belief of infliction of harm on people or property through the purported exercise of supernatural powers which an individual (labelled as witch) possesses. It can be described as a sociological or anthropological phenomenon, wherein such notions are invoked into the collective conscience of the community to in order to afford an explanation for the misfortune caused by attributing it to the sinister influence of someone. Thus, witchcraft has historically been employed to bring about the death of some obnoxious person, or to awaken the passion of love in those who are the objects of desire, or to call up the dead, or to bring calamity or impotence upon enemies, rivals and fancied oppressors.[6] Five characteristics are prevalent across varied countries and societies with regard to beliefs in witches and witchcraft[7]

  • Witches use non-physical means to cause misfortune or injury to others;
  • Harm is usually caused to neighbours or kin rather than strangers;
  • Strong social disapproval follows, in part because of the element of secrecy and in part because their motives are not wealth or prestige but malice and spite;
  • Witches work within long-standing traditions, rather than in one-time only contexts; and,
  • Other humans can resist witches through persuasion, non-physical means (counter magic), or deterrence including through corporal punishment, exile, fines or execution.

Alternatively, witchcraft is also usually associated with neo-paganism, shamanism and the deeds of traditional healers. Some have emphasized its close links to moral and broader belief systems and portrayed it more benignly as providing a framework of moral agency that enables believers to make sense of otherwise seemingly inexplicable coincidences or happenings.[8] It is also associated with positive connotations such as healing or cleansing, and as a means for articulating and coping with psychological problems.[9]

A number of studies have addressed witch-craft related crimes or homicides as a gender related issue as a result of socio-economic condition. The studies also point to the fact that witch-craft related incidents are more common in those areas which have larger tribal populations as compared to other populations. According to the statistics compiled by National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) on crime concerning witch-hunting there have been 2391 murders or culpable homicides between 1999 and 2013 in India. The three Indian states, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha are among the worst hit, each accounting for about 400 deaths in the past 15 years, as per the NCRB study.[10]

A scapegoat is a person or a group unjustly blamed for something bad that has happened in the community.  These scapegoats are often chosen from ‘safe’ groups, who occupy lower social positions and enjoy less power in society, because they are often powerless to fight back and the risk of retaliation is less.[11]

The concept of a scapegoat refers to the punitive or negative treatment of people or groups who are held to be accountable for crises or problems they did not cause (Jensen, 2007). The majority of the accusations levelled against women were by men. These women had reputations for being quarrelsome or having an evil eye, and they were in some way isolated from the rest of the village by their behavioural or physical characteristics. So, they become an easy prey and are labelled as witches as already the society hates them due to various other reasons too.

The role of rumour and gossip in witchcraft accusations has been well studied by Stewart and Strathern[12]. Their argument is that rumour and gossip play a crucial role in the early stages of stressful circumstances that might develop into accusations. Data from the witch hunts in India point to the role that “whispering” campaigns play a pivotal role in ostracizing a witch and gathering support for her accusers. Rumours enable people to believe what they want to believe (in this case, the evil deeds of the witch), and the rumours displace reality (Stewart & Strathern, 2004). This further establishes the status of accused women as easy and credible targets or scapegoats.[13]

The factors that influence the actions of individuals involved in instigating witch hunts are noteworthy and based on them the attacks can be classified into two broad categories:

Calculated Witch Hunts – In a calculated attack, witch hunts are preceded by “clear” motives on the part of the accusers based on what the accusers claim to be “instigations” from the accused. Accusers’ motives can be almost anything, including maligning the reputation of the accused woman, serving personal goals, seeking revenge to settle disputes over property, or explaining why illnesses or diseases happen. Such reasoning and conjectures play a major role in instigating the hunt.

Balwant, a male tribal social activist, has explained that most witch accusations stem from petty household or neighbourhood fights between women (ghorelu jogra).[14] Many feminist scholars also support this reasoning with regard to witch hunts. Balwant has also opined that the men, who are usually the decision makers in such cases, use the conflicts between women to serve other interests. The women (the accused witch and those initiating the accusation against her) are thus mere scapegoats in the entire conspiracy instigated by the men in the village.[15]

Surprise Witch Hunts – In cases of surprise attacks, the women victims and their families, prior to the attack, were or claimed to be unaware of the accusations against them. The attack happened without any instigation in the form of prior conflict or any history of witchcraft accusation against the accused witch.

The petty brawls, ailments, and minor conflicts involved in these surprise attacks were used as “legitimizing incidents” to start the witch hunt and to garner support against the target. The scale of the dispute that leads to an instigation of a hunt is more intense in calculated attacks than in surprise attacks. In the calculated attacks, ridding the village of witchcraft or bad magic served as a cover for the real goal, an ulterior motive. These ulterior motives included settling a score over a loan, disputes over property, and personal malice. In the surprise category of hunts, the goals of the accusers were not ulterior motives, but the elimination of the evil from the village.[16]

Victimization process

It is very clear from the various studies that have been conducted on the topic that not only women but men and at times children are accused as witches and they have to bear a brunt of the evil of witch- hunt.

But, how does all of this happen? How suddenly people are termed as witches? What goes on in the minds of the perpetrators? Where does all of this start from and what are the different stages which lead to the crime? These are some questions that have been popping all throughout the study and which need to be answered as to adjudge why this is a practise has no sense of realism and is totally a result of myths and concoctions. A few witch-doctors (called ojha) play a gimmick to earn their bread and have made it a profession which at times can earn them huge chunks of money.

The first stage is the existence of a dispute/difference between the perpetrator and the victim. It can be a difference in the physical appearance of the victim, the difference in social status, or the behavioural difference that raises a suspicion on the victim or it can be a dispute like a property dispute, ego issues, dislikes or feud which, at times can also be latent. This creates a dislike in the mind of the perpetrator. The next stage is the happening of an unfortunate incident like unusual illness or deaths, loss of property, inadequate monsoons, destruction of crops, etc. where the perpetrators hold the victim to be responsible for all this. Often the second stage is foul play so that the blame of something can be rested upon the victim and the score can be settled thereafter. “They tried to grab my land and sell it without my consent. When I confronted them, they called me a ‘dayan’ (witch), blamed me for many bad things in the village and nearly killed me,” a victim said.[17]

The next stage happens to be where the people are influenced that the (going to be) victim is involved in witchcraft or is the reason for all the misfortunes. They often consult a godman (known as ojha/shaman/baba/bhopa in regional languages) who with his so called supernatural powers figures out the reason for mishaps. The problem is so ingrained in the society that people fear reporting such things for the reason that they have to live in the society and they can’t mess up with the society.

Then there comes the last stage where the victim is accused of being a witch and the hunt starts. Apart from the physical and mental torture she has to go through all during the while she is often lynched to death.

Sri Kulo Saikia, IGP (Border) who has worked on the issue of witch-hunting said that the dead body of the alleged witch is cut into pieces and buried at different places because there is a belief that if her dead body is intact, she may return to life.[18]

Laws Concerning Witch-Hunts: An Analysis

India has a very long history of Witch-hunts since the medieval age and very much prevalent among Adivasis. The British tried to ban the persecution in the then states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Chhotanagpur in the 1840s-1850.[19] They also took a few administrative steps but the result was contrary to their intentions. There was a rise in the Witch-hunt cases and this was also seen as a staunch rebellion against the British Rule.

Since the post-independence era, there have been no special laws or national legislations which penalize witch-hunting practices.  The reason that is often cited for it is that the Indian Penal Code,1860 itself provides for the punishment of offences which are committed in the processes related to Witch-hunting.

The Indian Penal Code provides a punishment of up to one year in prison and/ or a fine of up to 1,000 rupees for “voluntarily causing hurt”.[20] This penalty is the same for slapping another person as it for beating and torturing an accused witch.[21] Most often Section 323 is used to prosecute the perpetrators of witch hunts.[22] Elsewhere, the Indian Penal Code criminalizes murder and provides a penalty of death or life imprisonment as well as a fine.[23] Section 354 imposes a penalty of up to two years in prison for “whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any women, intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty.[24] In the case of the perpetrators accusing women of witchcraft so that he may obtain her property, Section 382 provides a ten year sentence for “whoever commits theft, having made preparation for causing death, or hurt, or restrain in order to the committing of theft or in order to the retaining of property taken by such theft”.[25] Other Penal Code provisions that are relevant to crimes committed against supposed witches relate to wrongful restraint and confinement,[26] causing “grievous hurt”,[27] kidnapping and abduction,[28] rape,[29] and defamation.[30]

The increasing graph of crimes against women under the pretext of them suspected of being witches has compelled some states in India to formulate necessary legislation against this appalling practice.

  • Though Bihar is one of the most backward state in India, it 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.” The law criminalizes “intentionally or inadvertently abetting, conspiring, aiding and instigating the identification of a woman as a witch leading to her mental and physical torture and humiliation”. A person who identifies a woman as a witch can be imprisoned for three months and/or fined 1,000 rupees, and a person who causes a woman physical or mental torture by naming her a witch can be imprisoned for six months and/or fined 2,000 rupees.[31] The Act also prohibits any harm to a woman in an attempt to “cure” her; the penalty for such an act is one year in prison and/or a fine of 2,000 rupees.[32] But this is very important to note that instead of being more rigorous against the practice the laid down punishments and fines are far less than those under the IPC for corresponding offences.
  • Jharkhand followed the Bihar model and established “Anti Witchcraft Act” in 2001 to protect women from inhuman treatment as well to provide victim a 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 accuse someone of being a witch, tries to cure the witch and any damages are caused to them. Whereas Section 7 states the procedure for trial.
  • Chhattisgarh government enacted the “Chhattisgarh Tonahi Pratadna Nivaran Act, 2005”, to protect the people from atrocities in the name of Witch-Hunt. It provides an imprisonment for three years term for a person who accuses a woman of being a ‘Tonahi’ or ‘Dayan’ and five years’ imprisonment to anyone who causes physical harm to such woman.
  • Odisha government enacted the Odisha Prevention of Witch-hunting Act, 2013 which became enforceable in February 2014. This Act inter alia empowers the government to organise various awareness programmes against superstition and witch-hunting to make the law enforcement agencies as well as the society capable enough to put a pause over the rampant practice.
  • Rajasthan Government enacted the “The Rajasthan Prevention of Witch-Hunting Act, 2015”, to provide for adequate measures to tackle the menace of witch-hunting and to prevent the practice of witch-craft in the State. It is the most stringent law enacted against this menace in the country. A person who commits the grave crime of witch-hunting shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year but which may extend to five years or with fine which shall not be less than fifty thousand rupees or with both.[33]

The Assam Assembly has passed a The Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill in 2015. However this bill has been referred back by the Ministry of Home Affairs for review. This bill prescribes the most rigorous punishments for witch-hunting and witchcraft and any acts incidental thereto. The punishment for leading an individual to committing suicide after intimidating, stigmatising, defaming and accusing them as a witch may be extended to life imprisonment, along with a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh. It also has provisions for imprisonment up to seven years, along with a fine of up to Rs 5 lakh, for calling a person a witch. The bill also talks about special courts to deal with the issue and the fine collected will be given to the victim as compensation.

Judiciary’s Response to Witch-Hunt Cases

In a very recent case, the Gauhati High Court observed that witch-hunting is a socio-legal problem and needs to be curbed soon.[34] The Court noted that in the North-Eastern states, some people, mostly elderly women, are branded as witches and thereafter they are subjected to severe abuse in the name of getting rid of the evil supposed to be in them.

Terming it a social menace, the Bench observed: “Witch hunting as a phenomenon is not only confined to the State of Assam; it has affected large parts of the country. It is rooted in flawed quasi-religious beliefs, antiquated socio-cultural traditions blended with extreme superstitions practices.” The court also termed the act as one of the worst forms of Human Rights violations.[35]Several cases have indicated the courts’ willingness to punish those who injure and kill people in the name of witch-hunts, whereas in a few the superstitious belief because of which the offence was committed has been the mitigating factor in giving the sentence.

The court held the defendants’ superstitious belief as a mitigating factor. The court said, “the defendant’s belief that he was morally justified to have committed the offence under the influence of extreme mental and emotional disturbance and also superstitious belief that he was morally justified in committing the murder of Sakina Khatoon who, he thought, had caused the death of his brother.were mitigating factors.”[36] The court reduced the sentence of one defendant from the death to life imprisonment, mitigated the crime of the other defendant from murder to intentionally causing grievous hurt, and reduced the second defendants’s prison term from life to seven years.[37]

In Tula Devi and Others v. State of Jharkhand[38], the conviction of the defendants was upheld as per the offences under the IPC but the cognizance under the Prevention of Witch (Daain) Practice Act, 1999 was quashed. The reason given was that under the Act, the victim held the burden to prove that she has been tortured for being suspected as a witch, which she failed to prove in the case. Although it was established that the accused persons used called her a witch for two years on account of illness of son of one of the accused, after the recovery of the son from illness it can’t be held that she was tortured on the account of being suspected to practice witchcraft. In Madhu Munda & Ors. v State of Bihar[39], the delay in lodging the FIR and the unableness to prove that some wrong was caused to the appellants or the family members due to the alleged witchcraft of the deceased, the order of conviction was set aside.

Several PILs have been filed in the past against the state governments for inaction towards the rise in witch-hunts and inaction of the legislature which hinders the fundamental right to life of the victims. While condemning the practice of witch hunting, the Court issued certain directives for the State Government in order to eradicate the evil practice of witch hunting[40]. In Smt. Moyna Murmu v. State of West Bengal[41], the petitioners were driven out of their villages on suspicion of practicing witchcraft. The Court while observing the guidelines given by the Supreme Court in Gaurav Jain v. State of Bihar[42], directed State Government to undertake the following steps in order to ensure and eradicate the evil practice of witch hunting[43]:-

  • The State Government shall form a Committee comprising of experts from the field of public administration, sociologists, etc. to look into the prevalence of the practice of witch hunting in various districts in the State of West Bengal with special emphasis in tribal areas and the Committee shall submit its report to the State Government within six months from date of the order;
  • The Committee shall specify in its report the areas in the State of West Bengal, if any, where there is substantial prevalence of the practice of witch hunting and based on such report the Government shall form special cells in the concerned districts to deal with the issue of witch hunting in the said districts. The Government shall also post intelligence and police officers in such special cells who would carry on surveillance activity, collection of information and/or intelligence in the matter and, if necessary, take preventive measures to ensure that such unlawful practices are not carried on;
  • In the event of the commission of a witch hunting related activity, officers of the special cells would promptly register criminal cases against the offenders and take necessary remedial measures in the matter;
  • The victims of witch hunting shall be given District legal assistance through the Legal Services Authority as aggrieved persons who are entitled to legal aid under The Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987 and they shall also be extended necessary medical and psychological help and/or protection as they are the vulnerable witnesses of the crime by the State.
  • The State Government may also explore the possibility of formulating a Comprehensive Victim Compensation Scheme under Section 357A of the Code of Criminal Procedure for victims of witch hunting.

 

Need for a National Legislation

As mentioned earlier, India has no national legislation to curb the menace of witch-hunting and a lot depends upon the offences defined and the punishments prescribed in the Indian Penal Code which is itself a century old and hardly serving the need of deterrence in the present society. The fines and punishments are out dated as per the need of the society. The premier code for criminal law was a model piece of legislation but requires a “thorough revision to meet the changing needs of the 21st century”, said the former President Pranab Mukherjee.[44]  The Supreme Court has called upon the Parliament to overhaul Indian Penal Code (IPC), which is a century and half old statute and hardly serving the need of the present times.[45]

[46]

As earlier mentioned, there have been efforts made by nearly half a dozen States in India in enacting laws to prevent Witch-hunts and still many states have not shown enough of conviction against the problem. There are huge differences as per the punishments and fines prescribed under the special laws of each state which gives a differential treatment to the same crime.

State of Maharashtra tried to enact a law to prevent witch hunts and other superstitious practices but the opposition did not let it happen. The Assam Assembly’s draft bill is pending for assent of the President. Whereas states of West Bengal and Haryana have yet not taken any step forward towards the curbing of such practice by way of a special legislation. Coming back to the states which have enacted a special law, the punishments and the fines have so far not proved to be effective against the social menace. In Rajasthan, even though there are cases which are registered under the Act, not a single conviction has taken place yet.[47] In the state of Jharkhand, the punishment prescribed for one who physically or mentally tortures a witch is six months and a fine of Rs 2000/-, thereby reducing the punishment from what is prescribed under the IPC for the same offence. This in-coordination between national and state laws has caused the unwelcomed weakening of the regime against the problem and creates a legislative gap. Going back to the existing national law, most witch-hunt cases are dealt with by the Section 323 of the Indian Penal Code where the victim has not been murdered. This Section prescribes a very meagre punishment which is same as what one gets on slapping a person. The offence which involves such a grave existence of Mens Rea does not call for a harsher punishment. Further, the failure to prosecute the offenders despite of the special and general laws cannot be denied which is much worse.

India also has an international obligation under various international Covenants like the UDHR, ICCPR and Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women to protect women against practices like witch-hunts by taking legislative measures. The Committee of Elimination of Discrimination Against Women of the United Nations in the 51st Session held between 13th February to 2nd March, 2012 has given its concluding observations on the elimination of discrimination against women. The CEDAW endorsed witch- hunting as one of the harmful practices. The Committee also recommended to eliminate stereo-type and harmful practice and to formulate a preventive strategy to eliminate such practice.[48]

Therefore, as also pointed out by activists, a special national legislation in the matter is very much needed.

CONCLUSION

“The whole concept of witches was that women were speaking up for themselves and fighting for their rights. The whole concept of witchcraft came into play to hold down women and women’s empowerment.”

-Madchen Amick

It would not be an adverse proposition to put forth that the aforementioned lines hold good and validated 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. to which a woman is lawfully entitled. It would not be adverse to adduce here that the crime of witch-hunting, effectively prevalent in today’s millennial era is very much akin to what occurred in Medieval Europe. The psychology of the perpetrators of such violence is yet the same, to deprive women of their rights and their socio-economic liberation. An effective study conducted in the issue by PLD suggests that the victims of such crimes today are usually women in the age group of 50-60 years and are usually women who are widows or the patients of dire mental and physical illnesses.

It can also be effectively pointed out at this juncture that the victims and their families effectively bear the brunt of such labelling hand in hand. And usually, the neighbours and the larger community are complicit and compliant with the commission of such horrendous violence and abuse of human rights. Even the authorities charged with controlling and curbing such problems stand as mere silent spectators, sometimes due to corruption and mostly due to their own medieval mindsets.

In the absence of effective witch-hunting related laws, the perpetrators are tried under Indian Penal Code. Several states have their own laws against the witch-craft and witch- hunting. But, still there are vital lacunae in their formulation that need to be addressed and a large number of victims of witch-hunting point towards the ineffectiveness and futileness of the existing laws. In 2014, national level athlete Debjani Bora, who had won several gold medals in Javelin, was accused of witchcraft in Assam and was brutally assaulted for the same by the villagers. If such a crime can be perpetrated against a national level athlete then anyone can become a victim of such organised violence.

This issue can only be tackled effectively by educating the people, more so in rural areas and by instilling in them a sense of rationality. Efficient laws need to be accompanied by efficient social welfare delivery mechanisms as well. As we are aware, witch-hunting cases are on the rise because of a combination of factors, including poor health and medical services and schooling, lack of drinking water, sanitation and transport facilities, as well as a general lack of information in remote areas. Therefore, the strategy to combat this social evil has to be multi-pronged. As a matter of fact, the best strategy that the Government can adopt is:

  • First and foremost, the focus of the government should be the strict enforcement of the existing anti witch-hunting related mechanisms.
  • The advocacy of witch hunt laws is crucial to the Indian society as there is no central law specifically against this evil so that we can have an effective prosecution of the accusers and curb the attacks.
  • Sensitization and the adept responsiveness mechanism of police and Welfare Department Personnel should be formulated
  • NGOs working for prevention of witch related atrocities should make more efforts to detract people’s attention from such adverse practices and apply their energy in other constructive purposes. This job has to done at the block and village level. Local NGOs can play a very vital role in the same.
  • As the most important issue is the backwardness of people and the lack of rationality in their minds, there should be campaigns launched against superstition and the witch-hunting practices. This task is has to be done by effective collaboration between stakeholders and the combined efforts of the government, administration, voluntary organizations, schools, etc.
  • Special cells should be setup at the district and state levels for identification of the survivors and their rehabilitation.
  • The idea should be to effectively raise awareness amongst school children, as they are the future of the nation, so that this issue can be effectively eradicated from the grass root level

This article is written by Siddhant Asthana and Vanya Chaturvedi. Siddhant and Vanya are students at  Amity Law School, Delhi. This article secured 5th position in the RostrumLegal Essay Competition, 2017.


[1] Bible, Exodus 22:18, available at https://biblehub.com/exodus/22-18.htm, last seen on 20/12/2017.

[2]  The Practice of Witch hunting: A Call for its Abolition, Assam Mahila Samata Society (Mahila Samakhya) Assam (2010), available at https://www.assammahilasamakhya.org/hunting.pdf, last seen on 12/12/2017.

[3] E. Goode & N. B. Yehuda, Moral Panics: The Social Construction of Deviance, 195 (2nd ed., 2010).

[4] G. Foxcroft, Witchcraft Accusations: A Protection Concern for UNHCR and the Wider Humanitarian Community, available at https://www.crin.org/en/docs/Stepping_stones_witchcraft.pdf, last seen on 15/12/2017.

[5] S. Chaudhari, ATheoretical Model to Explain the Victimization Process during an Indian Witch Hunt, Global Criminology: Crime and Victimization in a Globalised Era, available at https://www.india-ava.org/fileadmin/docs/Chaudhuri-Explaining-an-Indian-witch-hunt-2013.pdf, last seen on 10/12/2017.

[6] Witchcraft, newadvent.org, available at https://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15674a.htm, last seen on 20/12/2017.

[7] Supra 2.

[8] Evans & Pritchard, Witchcraft Oracles and Magic among the Azande, (1937) Oxford University Press.

[9] Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary Or Arbitrary Executions, UN General Assembly, (A/HRC/11/2 27 on May, 2009).

[10] Dr. S. Sharma, Witchcraft Accusations and Women Scapegoating: A Study of Mahasweta Devi’s Bayen, 2.2 Literary Quest 78, 89 (2015).

[11] Indumati S, Scapegoating and the Art of Politics in India, Monk Prayogshala, available at https://www.monkprayogshala.in/blog/2017/3/6/scapegoating-and-the-art-of-politics-in-india, last seen on 9/12/2017.

[12] S. Chaudhari, Witches, Tea Plantations, And Lives Of Migrant Labourers In India : Tempest In A Teapot, (first published in 2013, Lanham : Lexington Books)

[13] S. Chaudhari, Women as Easy Scapegoats: Witchcraft Accusations and Women as Targets in Tea Plantations of India, 18 Sage Journals 10 (2012), available at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1077801212465155, last seen on 18/12/2017.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] R. Chandran, Witches beaten, buried, burned for land in princely Indian state, Reuters (4/10/2017), available at https://in.reuters.com/article/india-landrights-women/witches-beaten-buried-burned-for-land-in-princely-indian-state-idINKCN1C90EL, last seen on 20/12/2017.

[18] Supra 2.

[19] S. Sinha, Witch-Hunts, Adivasis, and the Uprising in Chhotanagpur, 42 (Economic and Political Weekly) 19, (12/05/2007).

[20] S. 323, Indian Penal Code, 1860.

[21] S. Saxena, Recourse Rare for Witch Hunt Victims in India, Women’s eNews, available at https://womensenews.org/2007/07/recourse-rare-witch-hunt-victims-in-india, last seen on 20/12/2017.

[22] Ibid.

[23] S. 300 and S. 302, Indian Penal Code, 1860.

[24] S. 354, Indian Penal Code 1860.

[25] S. 382, Indian Penal Code 1860.

[26] S. 339-48, Indian Penal Code 1860.

[27] S. 320 & 322, Indian Penal Code 1860.

[28] S. 359-69, Indian Penal Code 1860.

[29] S. 375-6, Indian Penal Code 1860.

[30] S. 499-501,Indian Penal Code 1860.

[31] The Prevention of Witch (Daain) Practices Act, 1999.

[32] National Commission for Women, 89, A SITUATIONAL ANALYSIS OF WOMEN AND GIRLS IN JHARKHAND, available at http;//ncw.nic.in/pdfreports/Gender%20Profile-Jharkhand.pdf, last seen on 12/12/2017.

[33] S. 4, The Rajasthan Prevention of Witch-Hunting Act, 2015.

[34] Bhim Turi v. State of Assam,  2017 SCC OnLine Gau 813.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Samtul Dhobi and Another v. State of Bihar, 1993 (2) BLJR 1041.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Tula Devi and Ors. v. State of Jharkhand, 2006 (3) JCR 222 Jhr.

[39] Madhu Munda and Ors. v. State of Bihar, 2003 (3) JCR 156 Jhr.

[40] State Government Directed to follow certain measures in order to eradicate the evil practice of witch hunting, SccOnline.com, available at https://blog.scconline.com/post/2016/08/08/state-government-directed-to-follow-certain-measures-in-order-to-eradicate-the-evil-practice-of-witch-hunting/, last seen on 14/12/12017.

[41] Smt. Moyna Murmu v. State of West Bengal, 2016 SCC OnLine Cal 4272.

[42] Gaurav Jain v. State of Bihar, 1991Supp(2) SCC 133.

[43] Supra 40.

[44] Indian Penal Code requires thorough revision, President Pranab Mukherjee, ndtv.com, available at https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/indian-penal-code-requires-thorough-revision-says-president-pranab-mukherjee-1281704 last seen on 15/12/2017.

[45] H. C. Upadhyay, Overhaul entire gamut of Indian Penal Code, available at https://www.thehansindia.com/posts/index/Telangana/2016-02-29/Overhaul-entire-gamut-of-Indian-Penal-Code/210517, last seen on 15/12/2017.

[46] M. P. Singh, Jharkhand tops in witch hunt murders, Rajasthan ranks low, Indian Express, available at https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/jharkhand-tops-in-witch-hunt-murders-rajasthan-ranks-low/, last seen on 11/12/2017.

[47] M. Iqbal, Branded witches and dragged to hell, The Hindu, available at https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/branded-witches-and-dragged-to-hell/article19778469.ece

& https://indianexpress.com/article/india/50-cases-of-witch-hunting-in-rajasthan-in-over-a-year-not-one-conviction-4821381/, last seen on 12/12/12017.

[48] Sashiprava Bindhani and Ors. Vs. State of Orissa and Ors., (2012) 114 CLT 1092.

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