India continues to see the over-arching presence of witch-hunting and sustained violence against women based on allegations of practicing black magic. Neither legislations nor awareness schemes have enabled the successful tackling of the social menace and lynching in the name of witchcraft continues in Indian villages. The latest instance of witch-hunting comes from the state of Jharkhand where four people have been beaten to death on the suspicion of practicing black magic. The incident is being reported from the Gumla district where two men and two women were killed in jurisdiction of the Sisaya police station. A dozen men picked up Shuna Bhagat(65), Fagni Devi(60), Champa Bhagat(65) and Peti Bhagat(60) from their house. Villagers allege that an assembly of villagers was organised before the lynching was carried out. The villagers alleged that the four people were involved in black magic and witchcraft. The four were dragged outside the village and were brutally beaten up until they succumbed to injuries. It is ironic that although states like Jharkhand have introduced special laws to curb crimes against people accused of witchcraft and superstition, such incidents continue to take place in the state.
Ironically enough, we continue to live in a nation where it does not take much effort from someone to motivate us to kill somebody on the basis of what they cook in their kitchen or the name by which they address their God. We continue to live with a collective conscience that is irrational, intolerant and insensitive to people’s cultural, ethnic, religious diversities and looks at all forms of differences as aberrations that must be ruthlessly surpassed.
Perhaps, this is also the reason why a practice as oppressive and regressive as witch hunting continues to strengthen its roots in our nation despite our growing GDP, despite our advancing space-research and expeditions to the Moon and despite the fact that very soon we wish to become the next superpower. Ironically, while our outer selves have seen the introduction of advanced technology, the glitz and glamour of global capitalism and the intrusion of western modernity has suddenly made us feel as if we have become all the more powerful- the reality is that we still have a long way to go as far as cultivating our thinking is concerned. Is it not extremely shameful and deeply disturbing to know that we continue to torture, taboo and kill numerous innocent women in Indian villages each year because we tend to assert that they are witches and contain evil powers. Yes, India continues to see sustained violence against its women in the name of witch hunting. Despite the efforts of social workers, civil society bodies and science unions to generate awareness against such a malpractice- we continue to witness the presence of witchcraft in India. In 2012, 119 women were brutally murdered in different corners of India because superstitious beliefs made them appear like witches.
The National Crime Records Bureau report reveals that between 1991-2010, 1,700 women were murdered in the name of witchcraft. The numbers must certainly be higher than what they appear on record because most of the cases still continue to go unregistered or even unreported. The allegations of practicing witchcraft have been labelled on many Indian women for centuries and have often been found to have their roots in property and family disputes, local politics, mental disturbances- these allegations bring about extreme forms of exploitation, mental and physical torture, rape and assault and even the death of these women.
These women are put through so much pain and hardship that they are often compelled to leave behind their villages and start life afresh. It has been consistently observed that single women, widowed women, women with mental or physical handicap are mostly the targets of witchcraft accusations.
Indian women’s rights activists and rationalists have called for a strong law to do away with the social evil of witchcraft. Perhaps it is a combination of legislations and cultivation of scientific rationality alone that abolish the evil practice of violence in the name of witchcraft.