WITCH HUNTING…. A scandalising reality!
Anyone who thinks that witchcraft belongs only to our past and imagination, should think again. WITCHCRAFT IS A LIVING PROBLEM. Much of the world still believes in witches, their supernatural powers and malevolent intentions. It may be a historical curiosity in the west, but witchcraft casts its spell over much of the world even today. And all too often the accused are abused and ostracised, tortured and even killed.
It owes its origin to the ideologies of the Medieval Roman Catholic Church of ‘GOD AND THE SATAN.’ They believed anyone opposing Christianity was a sinner and a witch and should be severely punished. Thus witchcraft became one of the most horrible sins one could be accused of, and it became a symbol of everything anti-Christian and thousands of people fell under this category.
These thoughts on witchcraft, were later complied in a manual called Malleus Maleficarum (Bible of Witch Hunters), which further fanned the religious sentiments of the Christians .This book was a guide to the clergy to distinguish the evil from the good, the witches from the angels .Although the theories and descriptions in that book were myths, fear and hysteria based on that book spread everywhere across Europe, and later even reached America.
As a result of this blend of ignorance, fear and intolerance, thousands of human beings lost their lives. The majority of the victims were women, as the clergy thought them more open to the Devil’s influence than men, but thousands of men and even children were killed too. Some of the victims were lynched by angry mobs, while others were ceremoniously executed in church-approved public gatherings by hanging, decapitation, pressing with heavy stones, or burning alive at the stake.
The actual “witch hunts”reached a peak in the 16th and 17th centuries when even the secular authorities such as James VI, King of Scots, or King Christian IV of Denmark started paying bounties for each ‘witch’ punished or burned to death.
Fortunately, the fear of witches has declined in the Western world with the evolution of society. Today most people are more educated and less vulnerable to superstition and religious fundamentalism than their old European ancestors. The literal witch-hunting is over in most developed countries but is still widely believed in and ‘practiced’ in the developing nations particularly in Africa, India and south-east Asia where better education is important in the war against witch-hunting. A combination of poor health facilities, illiteracy and government corruption and their dismissive attitudetowards tribal issues and problems reinforces the customary belief ofwitch hunting.
In India, it’s particularly rampant in the tribal areas of central and eastern India. Here, the practice of branding women as witches has become a common practice. Hundreds of women in India’s conservative villages have been killed or tortured after being accused of witchcraft. Those who survive are shunned and live in poor conditions.
Originally, the concept of witch hunting was based on superstition. The typical belief is that when something goes wrong in a village, there must be somebody casting an evil eye and witch hunting is a way of relieving stress from the villagers. The villagers would decide the culprit and the next day that person is humiliated, tortured or even killed.This practice is prevalent not only in villages but even towns across the country, and is seen as another form of gender-based violence where women are tortured in the name of myths and taboos .
But the present day scenario shows witch hunting as more of a conspiracy.
Labelling a woman as a witch is a common ploy to grab land, settle scores or even to punish her for turning down sexual advances of someone dominant in the village or family. Victims in most cases are young, good looking widows or single women who own huge property. Society believes that women who are self-sustained have no right to live and so, all their property and belonging should be snatched from them by giving an excuse of witch-hunting.These heinous crimes are committed by their own family members along with the village authorities. NGOs working in rural areas have found “beauty and wealth” to be the prime reasons behind witch-hunts.
Another set of women who become victims of witchcraft are those who behave differently due to their mental health or hormonal changes. In such and other cases, it is difficult for the accused woman to reach out for help and she is forced to either abandon her home and family or driven to commit suicide.
Jharkand in Ranchi has been dubbed ‘the witch-killing hub of India.’In the Telangana region of India, villagers have lately burnt or stoned to death several people suspected of practising ‘Banamati’, a local form of witchcraft, and held responsible for the death and ill-health of several villagers. Saloni Khujoor of Mandar village, an educated single woman, was branded a witch and killed because society could not tolerate a woman being the heir of her father’s property and people don’t want to see women being self-dependent. In Andhra Pradesh, it is said, settling old scores was a primary reason for witch-hunting besides land grabbing. The brutal killing of three tribal women in a village in West Midnapore district on accusations of practicing witchcraft by a village group on October 18, 2012 highlights the myriad ways in which the fairer sex is oppressed and exploited.
In the tribal belt of India, a spate of witch-hunts has created headlines. In villages around the region, women suspected of witchcraft are being hunted down and attacked. Some are forced to eat human excreta…others are beaten and stripped naked…many are brutally tortured and killed by enraged mobs while in some cases, local people would remove the teeth of suspected witches in the belief that it would take away their powers
Over 500 cases have been reported in just the 1990’s and the witch-hunts still continue in villages all over the region.
According to the National Crime Record Bureau data, since 2008, 768 women have been murdered for practicing witchcraft. Their numbers are adding up each year.A 2010 estimate places the number of women killed as witches in India at between 150 and 200 per year, or a total of 2,500 in the period of 1995 to 2009. The lynchings are particularly common in the poor northern states of Jharkhand, Bihar and Chattisgarh.
ZRG analysis shows Odisha, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh, traditionally unsafe states for women, lead in crimes under the category of witchcraft.
Many noted journalists and social activists have done commendable work to highlight and showcase the plight of women who are branded as witches.
Chutney Mohato , herself a victim of this practice and who was accused of being a witch sixteen years ago was stripped naked, beaten, and nearly killed by villagers in eastern Jharkhand, now runs an organization to help women combat accusations of witchcraft and fight back against those superstitions.
Noted women journalist, Sutapa Deb And Sohaila Kapur have portrayed the woes of these tortured “witches” in their documentaries. They and many others seek answers to this heinous belief .The film gives viewers a rare glimpse into a forbidden world. Sohaila Kapoor’s story is of a teenaged boy who beheaded his aunt and carried her head to the police. His statement to the police indicates that he believed his aunt was a witch. In other parts of the world, this boy would be branded a psychotic killer.
The female victims of witch hunts invariably have to seek police protection and mostly are ostracised and so driven by the villagers to leave their homes and even give up their properties. The harrowing lives they then live is seen clearly in the interviews in the documentary.
Not much effort has been made by the legislation or by the competent authorities to protect such victims.Often, there is official neglect. In some regions, when a woman is killed after being branded a witch, a case is not even registered
The social evil of witch hunting still continues unabated. While most of the women do not have the courage to protest against the harassment they are subjected to, some of them have not only been able to overcome the fear and trauma of being branded as witches, they have emerged as pathfinders for the victims.
Do witches exist….are these women really witches…or is there something more sinister stalking this land?
This is an issue that needs greater visibility. It’s about looking at a very human issue that concerns all of us.
To understand various ramifications of this complicated issue, HRDI is organizing a symposium “Witch hunting in India- a scandalising reality !” at Indian Law Institute on 30th May, 2013 (Thursday) between 3.00 P.M. to 7.00 P.M.
A documentary addressing the issue would be screened and the purposed Bill drafted by legal expert committee of HRDI would be discussed at the symposium.
The symposium would be addressed and attended by Human/Women Rights Activists, Lawyers, Professors, Journalists etc. Dr. Charuwali Khanna, Member National Commission for Women has already consented to be one of the speakers. We are also anticipating participation from different universities, NGO’s and Human Rights Advocacy groups concerned with the issue.
You are invited to join this event on 30th May 2013 between 3.00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. at The Indian Law Institute and be the defender of these voiceless victims of savagery.
Kindly contact Ms. Archana Malik (prog. coordinator)for registration, participation and any further information on this event @ 9711397720.
Rajesh Kumar Gogna, Advocate
Amicus Curie, Supreme Court of India,
Member, Court of University of Delhi,
Human Rights Defense International (HRDI)
8,Todermal Lane, Bengali Market,
New Delhi 110001 (India)
Phone: +91 11 23718929 – 011 23 73 8929
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