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Black Magic and Witchcraft cases: A Legal Analysis

The Practice of Black Magic is a social evil existing in our country fueled by religious beliefs. It is common practice in the villages of our country that when a person starts behaving in an inappropriate manner or demonstrates signs of psychological disorders or diseases, the person is led not to a Psychiatric Hospital but to a Tantric Baba or Witch Doctor who allegedly holds expertise in Occult Arts and Black Magic.

In modern times, Psychiatric Science has progressed to great proportions. The concepts of Mental Health and Mental Illness are not only recognized by experts and scientists but even by the law. In such an advanced scientific modern world, people, who could receive mental help from experts, psychiatrists, and doctors, are not treated but are submitted to frauds and Witch Doctors claiming to be able to perform exorcisms to magically “cure” the disease.

The Problem: Explained
No accurate and confirmed data can be presented to portray the ignorance of people in Villages regarding Mental Health. It is pertinent to note that this does not fall within the four walls of one religion. Each and every religion, including Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, as well as other local beliefs supports such blatant disregard of mental health and human rights. Due to illiteracy and absence of medical facilities within reach, the condition has worsened and the approach for help by people to fraudsters, or Witch Hunters, or Witch Doctors has proliferated.

To buttress my contention, I will be putting forth some recent examples. It is further pertinent to note that such cases go mostly unrecorded and hence, all that we see in the news is merely the tip of the iceberg or those cases which end up being extreme cases.

Recently, a thirty-year old woman was killed on suspicion of being a witch in Jharkhand. The Jharkhand state is prone to witch hunting. This has been the 12th reported case so far this year.
Another case of death due to exorcism happened in Telangana where the victim, a twenty four-year old girl was thrashed for 3 days by the perpetrator employed by a relative, due to which she was hospitalized and later succumbed to injuries.

One of the most recent cases that has come to notice and has grabbed the attention of the Orissa High Court is that of a murder of a woman, committed while attempting to free her from an alleged demonic spirit possessing her. A bail application on behalf of the various accused, one of them being the brother of the deceased, was heard and dismissed by the Orissa High Court considering the seriousness of such cases. The court noticed that the petitioner masquerades as a Witch Doctor and performs exorcisms on allegedly possessed people.

This menace does not limit itself to mental illness. Recently, two kids with snake-bites were taken to snake charmers instead of the Hospital where the Ojhas suggested the parents bury the kids in cow dung. The kids died and no action was taken against the Ojhas.

In another case of State of West Bengal v. Kali Singh and others, three women were murdered on the belief that they were Witches. The case was that around 50 men came to the home of the victims and demanded 60,000 rupees as fine for carrying out witchcraft activities. On non-payment, the three women were dragged to the river, killed and buried. In the case, one Hon'ble Judge held that the commutation of the punishment from death sentence to life imprisonment is apt relying on the mitigating factor that the accused were blinded by superstitious belief and they were of scheduled tribe community.

The Effects
Mental Trauma and Physical Agony inflicted upon the Victims at the hands of such witch doctors or public, lynching attempts by aggravated public (Witch Hunting), and Fraud and Extraction of Wealth from Victim and the family of the Victim in the name of faith.

There are witch doctors that cure such allegedly possessed people off of evil spirits by exorcisms. In a recent case , this insidious practice of performing exorcism led to the death of two children aged 4 and 6 years respectively.

To combat the evil that Witch Hunting is, the State Governments have enacted statutes to particularly criminalize the hideous and diabolical acts committed against women, children and sometimes men too. States including Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Assam, and Jharkhand have enacted legislations to combat superstition and to mitigate the crimes committed.

Though these legislations are aimed at providing remedy in individual cases, the enactments do not aim at eradicating the evil in the society at large. Further, there is no uniformity in the sentencing or punishment for the crime. In the statute enacted in Karnataka, the punishment is more than 1 years and upto 7 years, whereas, as per the Bihar legislation the punishment for some crimes is as low as six months. Apart from that, other problems with the state legislations include lack of uniform recognition of definition of such acts as some acts are punishable in some states and some in another, lack of uniform appeal regarding awareness campaign or scheme, among other things.

These statutes also lack proper coverage. The statutes must not only apprehend this despicable practice post happening, but at the inception of the problem itself by offering remedy to the victim. This is where the factor of mental health becomes relevant.

The Aspect of Mental Health
It is pertinent to state that the Right to Health is integral to Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. This has been upheld and enunciated by the Supreme Court in State of Punjab v. M.C. Chawla. The victims of witch hunting and black magic not only have the Right to Physical Health but also the Right to Mental Health.

Section 18 of the Mental Healthcare Act 2017 provides the Right to access Mental Healthcare. Section 20 further provides the Right to be protected from any kind of Physical, Verbal, or Sexual Abuse.

In the case of Mrs.SashipravaBindhani vs Unknown, the Orissa High Court stated that a law is needed for the State to combat the social malady while recognizing a report on the practice of Banamathi (Kannada for Witch). The report recognized that the sufferings of Banamathi victims fit into familiar patterns of Mental and Physical Diseases. It further recognized the psychological disorders which are found in such victims which include Hysterical Neurosis, which is a common psychiatric disturbance characterized by episodes of abnormal behaviour. These are directly understandable in terms of strong socio-cultural beliefs, family and personal problems, poverty etc.

Potential Solutions
In the case of Smt.MoynaMurmu Vs. Sri Nanda Murmu in W.P. No. 27093(W) of 2015, the Court directed that there must be special cells made in prone districts where the cases of witch hunting are reported often. Prompt registration of criminal complaints was the main focus in the judgment.

One Stop Center Scheme is a great initiative by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, Government of India. The location of such one stop centres are determined by taking into account the number of registered criminal cases, female population and child sex ratio. Such one stop centers can be used to combat the problem of reaching the victims of witch hunting. Such one stop centres and special cells can also be linked with the endeavors of the Government for awareness of mental health under Section 29 of the Mental Health Care Act 2017 read with Section 32 of the Mental Health Care Act 2017.

A well defined central legislation is the need of the hour. The only argument against the legislation is that the problem is constrained in certain areas of certain states. But it is also essential to consider that only the problem of widespread Witch hunting is constrained to certain areas. But the acts of such belief in the Supernatural which do not result in deaths go unnoticed in our country happen in no specific area but throughout north and south India. Many cases are not noticed and are considered to be cured by rough and ineffective methods deployed by naïve witch doctors, when proper remedy and rehabilitation facilities exist, though, out of reach.

End-Notes:
  1. https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/2249/1/a2017-10.pdf
  2. https://sabrangindia.in/article/jharkhand-woman-killed-suspicion-being-witch
  3. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/woman-dies-in-brutal-exorcism-ritual-in-telangana-s-karimnagar-sorcerer-arrested/story-02KCRobMW8QUmQ4uyzLbsI.html
  4. https://www.livelaw.in/news-updates/witch-hunting-still-very-active-in-this-century-despite-scientific-temper-have-reached-its-pinnacle-orissa-hc-calls-for-uniform-law-read-order-161345
  5. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bareilly/bitten-by-snakes-two-kids-buried-in-cow-dung-on-advice-of-ojhas-in-up-die/articleshow/77660773.cms
  6. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/154328912/
  7. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/two-children-dead-after-a-visit-to-exorcist-in-bengal-s-malda/story-R9qTcrgEhANJ3XGHjqB3vO.html
  8. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1569214/
  9. https://indiankanoon.org/doc/139771322/
  10. https://www.casemine.com/judgement/in/57b44449bc416857b537ca3f#undefined

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