Living in the comfort of India’s megacities, we in Marcellus merrily write about the ascent of India’s women (click here for our latest piece: Meanwhile, back in the ranch in rural India, a different – more medieval – reality rumbles on. As Jigyasa Mishra explains in this piece, “On September 11, 2022, Seeta*, 43, branded a witch, was thrown out of the village by her family. In August, her 29-year-old nephew had visited a bhopa, a faith healer, to find a solution to his parent’s ill-health and the problems he was facing with his career. “The bhopa told him that your kaki (aunt) is the reason why all of this is happening in your home. She is a dakan [witch] who is constantly bringing bad energy to your family.

When her nephew returned he pulled Seeta by the hair, took her out of the house and questioned why she was doing this. “It took me some time to understand what was going on,” Seeta said, explaining that she was humiliated and tortured, before being thrown out of their home in a village in Bhilwara district.”

As with many of our other ills, witch-hunting too seems to be something we imported from Europe but then we forgot to eliminate the superstition long after the colonialists had left: “The practice of labelling a woman as a witch and blaming her for misfortunes in the family are age-old, with a mass hunting in the Chhota Nagpur region in India recorded in the National Archives in 1857. “Witch hunting had been prevalent even in early modern Europe and colonial America. During the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, many women were put to death by the state in Salem witch trials (America) and Suffolk trials of Europe,” wrote Tanvi Yadav, a research scholar at the Central University of Rajasthan, in a paper in 2020.

The malpractice, called Dayan-Pratha (witch-hunting tradition) in Rajasthan, was still prevalent in several Indian states, with 13 of them reporting deaths in 2020 and 2021–Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh….As per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), approximately 3,093 women were killed in India between 2001 and 2021, for which the motive was ‘witchcraft’.”

Various states have past laws against witch hunting eg. Bihar in 1999, Rajasthan in 2015 but the Centre is yet to pass a law on this subject. In the meantime not only do women continue to fall victim to this fatal superstition, they are also victimised in other ways. Quoting Tanvi Yadav’s 2020 paper on this subject, Ms Mishra writes: “In Early Modern Europe and Colonial America, witches were held responsible for disasters like famines, floods, drought, and epidemics resulting in massive deaths,” writes Yadav in her 2020 paper.

In India, “the most common reasons to accuse and declare women witches are personal disputes or enmities, sexual desires towards women of the lower caste, coveting property of single women”, she added, explaining that Dalit women are often the target, with those from the upper castes attributing blame to witchcraft by Dalit women for their loss….

Often witch hunting becomes a pretext for sexual harassment….”

The IndiaSpend goes onto detail the surreally tragic world of women in rural Rajasthan who are first branded witches and then sexually exploited by faith healers – all of this in their native village.

Ms Mishra then points to a pattern in witch-hunting which – as per official records has claimed the lives of 7 women in Rajasthan between 2016-22: “Most of the time, those labelled as witches are widows, single, middle-aged or older women, since they seem to be easy prey,” said Shakuntala Pamecha, founder and director of the Rajsamand Jan Vikas Sansthan, who has been working on this issue across Rajasthan for about a decade. It is only over the past six to seven years that women have started to go to the police, she explained. “The introduction of the law is working but a stronger intervention and quicker decisions in the favour of the victims could do wonders,” to reduce and stop the practice.”

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