“Didi, you know, I saw one witch in the evening and I fell sick.” Pokhila, my full time helper said.
“Is it? Who is that Witch?” I was inquisitive.
“She lives in our village. A mother of one of my friends. She mostly stays inside the house. But when someone sees her in the evening, falls sick immediately.”
“So, how many children she has? Are they always sick? What about her husband?”
“Two children. But, they are her own children, that’s why they don’t fall sick. Her husband goes to work in the early morning and come back almost midnight.”
“If she is outside her house in some auspicious occasion, all villagers throw stones on her.” She added.
Pokhila went to an Ojha, village quack doctor. She felt better mentally, but continuous fever made her weak enough. I took her along, showed to a doctor. She was actually suffering from Typhoid, but all her village people are probably still blaming the lady who is called ‘Daayan’ or 'Witch'.
In October 2013, a woman from the Shivni village in central Chhattisgarh fell ill. Villagers suspected that the illness was due to witchcraft. Indian shaman forced 30 women to drink a brew made from a poisonous herb in a “witchcraft test”, among which 25 died. The shaman was arrested, but, the “Daayan Pratha” or the practice of witchcraft, is still in vogue in many parts of rural India.
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Women are almost always the targets of witch-hunts. Generally, a ‘witch branded’ woman is not allowed to reach out for help and she is either forcefully thrown out from her home and family, commit suicide or is brutally murdered.
Last year, the Women’s News Network quoted the editor of the Cornell Law Journal on the practice. Said Rebecca Vernon, “Over the last fifteen years, an estimated 2,500 Indian women have been killed because they were 'witches...Witch hunts are most common among poor rural communities with little access to education and health services, and longstanding beliefs in witchcraft. When an individual gets sick or harm befalls the community, the blame falls not upon a virus or crop disease, but upon an alleged witch.”
According to Indian National Crime Records Bureau data, at least 2,100 people have been murdered for “practicing witchcraft” in India between 2000 and 2012.
What are the reasons behind the labeling of a Witch ?
Gender inequality, property disputes, unavailability of good healthcare centre and superstitions are the main reasons for this practice.
Womensenews.org said that tagging a woman as a witch is “a common ploy to grab land, settle scores or even to punish her for turning down sexual advances.
Kanchan Mathur, a professor at the Institute of Development Studies said, “Poor, low-caste women are easy targets for naming/branding [as a witch]…Women who are widowed, infertile, possess ‘ugly’ features or are old, unprotected, poor or socially ostracized are easy targets.”
However, according to Women New Network (WNN) – which reports about women’s issues –women who become too powerful and thus threaten the male leadership can also become the target of witch hunting. WNN added that the Hindu religion has several rituals that can be misinterpreted as witchcraft.
According to the Mahila Samakhya Society, witch hunting cases are significantly fewer in areas with a good government network of primary healthcare centres. Good health care centres could result in the reduction of this practice. If doctors are made available in rural areas, incidents of witch hunting can come down in great percentage.
Besides, there is ineffective law for witch hunting. These cases are currently registered under sections: murder, grievous hurt, assault, assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty, kidnapping for ransom and criminal intimidation. A proper law should be enforced and the police needs to be trained to handle such situations.
Above all, proper education system can help in pulling down the witch hunting in great extent. Reaching the extremely poor and rural area, educating the people like Pokhila’s neighbours will save thousands of women’s lives for sure.