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The Bestial Treatment Of Women And The Vicious Truth Of Witch Hunting In India

The memorial of witch-hunt victims in Keonjhar, Odisha read "In memory of all innocents who were killed being branded as witch" but still the gravity of the situation is yet to be taken into serious consideration in India and a mere statue to depict the guilt is not going to create a difference. Lets take for instance, Poni Orang, a 63-year-old mother of five, was tortured and decapitated by machete-wielding villagers on July 20 when a mob of 150 villagers went on her home in the northeastern state of Assam. In connection with the murder, 16 persons were arrested, including nine women.

Are we still going to ignore this barbaric treatment of women based on some imprudent superstition?. It is even argued that "Witch Hunt" is not just a way to silence women but also a big weapon to feed the concept and fear of class difference down everybody's throats. From poni orang to other faceless victims of this heinous crime conclude one thing that, "Superstition is to religion what astrology is to astronomy; the mad daughter of a wise mother."

Some might argue that superstitions are the pillars that hold the religion together, these small sweet naggings make the concept of religion complete and relatable to everyone irrespective of their environment . In a country like India, whose representation is very low in the world wide media its essential to hold on to certain traditions and superstitions to keep the religion alive in everyday life but do we want to do it at the cost of some innocent mother's life? Or some daughter's dried up tears? Or do we want our tradition to be used as a weapon against us, used by the privileged to oppress the illiterate and underprivileged class of our society?

The Commencement Of "Witchcraft" As A Concept

Witchcraft belief is thought to have existed since the dawn of human social life. Witchcraft has long been represented, documented, and thought to be mostly a female affair that has been (and continues to be) done by women.

The words 'witchcraft' and 'craft' are combined to form the word 'witchcraft.' 'Wicce' comes from the word 'Wicca,' which means 'witch,' and 'craft,' which means 'skill' or aptitude.' Witchcraft is the practice and belief in magical skills, and a witch or wizard is someone who practices or believes in witchcraft. Midwives have previously been accused of witchcraft and forced to confess by being tortured. People affiliated with witchcraft are viewed with distrust and are socially less acceptable because the word is used in a negative way.

Witch-hunting, on the other hand, is a wicked practice in which women accused of causing negative influences are labeled as witches by Ojhas (witch doctors/tantriks) or community members and then hounded, banished, flogged, raped, paraded naked through the village, forced to eat human excreta, balded, thrashed, and so on. The study finishes with a solution to the current problem of gender-based violence.

Introduction To Reprehensible Superstitions Surrounding Women and Witch-Craft

Sati pratha, the dowry system, and other bad practices have been practiced in India since antiquity. We have been able to remove many of these terrible practices as economics and education have progressed. Despite this, due to people's superstitious beliefs, witch-hunting continues to be practiced in various states across the country. Because of their belief in malicious witchcraft, many people have been tortured and executed in the past. Even Joan of Arc, who led France to victory against the British at the age of 19, was burned alive after being convicted of witchcraft. According to the National Crime Bureau's 2015 report, between 2001 and 2014, 2290 women were accused of being witches in India.

According to RN Salvatore's book, Witchcraft: A Study in Indian Occultism, released in 1981, witchcraft or "demonology" was a practice sanctioned by Hindu texts in ancient times. The Rig Veda, an ancient Hindu scripture, mentions witchcraft as a profession, and it was taught in ancient Indian universities. According to Shashank Shekhar Sinha, an author and expert on local cultures, the idea for the formation of the "witch" as a concept developed in the mid-1800s when ethnology and anthropology began to emerge as scientific disciplines pursued by colonial academics and officers.

Books, Laws And Cases Concerning Witch-Hunt

Brian p. Smith edited the book "New Perspectives on Witchcraft, Magic, and Demonology." Levack encapsulates the key concerns of witchcraft and gender, painting a picture of how women are persecuted as a result of practicing witchcraft. It seeks to in-depth research the themes from the standpoint of gender studies and the perspectives of anthropology, sociology, literature, history, psychology, and so on, through numerous publications.

Dr. Anima Baishya's work "Phenomenon of Witch-hunting in the North East: A Major Challenge to Women" was also assessed by the researcher. This book is a collection of chosen seminar papers delivered at S.B.M.S. College in Sualkuchi, Assam, at a national seminar on the above-mentioned issue. The articles in the collection cover a wide range of topics, including trends in witch-hunting in tribal communities, legal issues, and the role of the media in preventing witch-hunting, among others.

The responsibilities of numerous agencies and social workers who are always working on the issue have been explored in the papers. The articles also propose a number of solutions for dealing with such a problem.

Sita Anantha Raman's work "Women in India: A Social and Cultural History" is a study on the different ways in which non-Western women have evolved and articulated their feminist agenda. It is divided into two parts that cover Indian history from ancient to present times, explaining why gender rights beliefs did not remain consistent throughout eras or places.

Raman's work

covers a wide range of topics and makes an effort to contextualize Indian women's status in society. Early India is depicted in the first volume, while later India is depicted in the second.
Witch-hunting is a blatant violation of a citizen's fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. It violates the Indian Constitution's Articles 14, 15(3), 15(4), 21, 51, and 51A(h), as well as other national laws such as the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Several states have also devised and deployed their own tools to combat this crime. Bihar passed the Prevention of Witch (DAAIN) Practices Act in 1999, which was then adopted by Jharkhand in 2001. In 2005, Chhattisgarh passed the Chhattisgarh Tonahi Pratadna Nivaran Act. Rajasthan and Assam were the most recent states in 2015 to pass legislation on the subject.

Despite the existence of these rules, offenders frequently escape prosecution owing to witnesses' refusal to testify against them. This has been observed before in situations like Madhu Munda v. State of Bihar. The defendants were found guilty in Tula Devi and others v. State of Jharkhand, although not under the Prevention of Witch (Daain) Practices Act, 2001. The burden of evidence was placed on the victim in this case, who had to establish that she was being accused of being a witch. The majority of the time, these governmental measures have failed to shield women.

Quantitative Analysis Of This Menace To Humanity

In the 300 years of European witch-hunts, modern academic estimates place the overall number of executions for witchcraft in the five digits, mainly between 40,000 and 60,000. The bulk of people charged were from Europe's lowest socioeconomic groups, however high-ranking officials were occasionally implicated. "The archetypal witch was the wife or widow of an agricultural laborer or small tenant farmer, and she was generally known for a quarrelsome nature," Scarre and Callow found. and combative character" based on this data.
In Europe in the 13th century, Germany in 1587, and America in the early modern era from 1450 to 1750, witch-hunting attacks were prevalent.

According to data collected in India, Witch-hunting continues to be common in 12 of Odisha's 30 districts, particularly in Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Sundargarh, Malkangiri, Gajapati, and Ganjam.

The majority of those who were subjected to such superstitious activities were accused of "creating health problems or crop loss." According to the survey, health concerns in children sparked 27% of instances, health issues in an older family member triggered 43.5 percent of cases, misfortune or land grabbing caused 24.5 percent of cases, and crop failure triggered 5% of cases. The Odisha State Commission for Women and Action Aid, an international non-governmental organization, issued Witch Hunting in Odisha on December 20, 2021. The conclusions were based on 102 case studies of witch branding and witch hunting victims gathered by Action Aid across the state.

Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Haryana, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, and Maharashtra are among the 12 Indian states where witch hunts and witch branding are still practiced.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, Odisha has the second-highest number of killings as a result of this malpractice, behind Jharkhand (NCRB).According to NCRB data, there were 19 witchcraft-related killings in Odisha in 2019, compared to 18 in each of 2018 and 2017, as well as 25 in 2016. In areas with uneven socioeconomic structures, gender inequality, limited healthcare, and widespread illiteracy, the harsh behaviors were pervasive. According to the research, women, particularly Dalits and tribal people, bear the brunt of exploitation and abuse.

The research report, according to Minati Behera, chairman of the Odisha State Commission for Women, compiled evidence of numerous types of human rights abuses related to witch hunts and witch branding. The study attempted to identify weaknesses in the current law � the Odisha Prevention of Witch Hunting Act, 2013 � with the goal of suggesting ways to enhance it, she explained. "Witch persecution of women is considered by the Commission to be a violation of women's rights."

As recommended by the report, the Commission will take additional efforts to change the existing law to provide proper protection to victims of witch branding," Behera stated. She also stated that the panel will work with many stakeholders to ensure that different ministries work together to solve the issue of witch branding. Lets take a look at all these analytical data collected from around the globe to compare the alarming condition in India -

England: Three main acts were established to punish witches in England during Queen Elizabeth's reign. In the legendary trial of 'The Chelmsford Witches,' a lady named Agnes Waterhouse became the first person to be executed in England for witchcraft. In the early 1600s, King James I of England backed witch hunts, which culminated in the trial of 'The Pendle Witches.'

Europe: The 'Trier Witch Trials' were Europe's largest witch trials. Between 1581 and 1593, over 368 persons were executed, including respected citizens, academics, and judges.

America: 'The Salem Witch Trials, which took place in the Massachusetts settlement of Salem in 1690, marked the start of this practice in America.' During the trial, a number of people were executed. Before 1792, there is no trace of witch-hunting in India. The Santhal witch trials in 1792 are the earliest evidence of witch-hunts in India.

Not only were individuals accused of being witches murdered in the Singhbhum district of the Chotanagpur division in Company-ruled India, but also those close to the accused to guarantee that they would not avenge the deaths. The Santhals, an Adivasi community, colonized the Chotanagpur region in large numbers.

The Santhals had a strong conviction in the existence of witches. Witches were feared and were thought to be dangerous. They were also said to have the ability to kill individuals by eating their intestines and infecting livestock with fevers, among other things. As a result, the Adivasi population believed that the cure to their ailment and sickness was the abolition of the witches who were believed to be the reason.

Wicked Witch or Wicked Superstitions?

India is a country where women are seen as symbols or tokens of their communities, families, castes, and other social divides. On the one hand, people worship them in the name of Goddesses, while on the other, they are killed as witches. Killing is not a recent phenomenon in Indian society; it has ancient historical origins. When the notion of a witch was first debated, people imagined an ugly woman with a broom who could fly and disappear.

A lady might be accused of witchcraft for a variety of reasons. It might be a simple explanation in a situation where there are no simple solutions. When people are in an undesirable position where they have no control, it may offer them a sense of control and the opportunity to blame others.

Women may be accused of sorcery, branded as witches, and pursued for a variety of causes, including the loss of a child, a disease epidemic, bad weather, and a poor crop. Between 2000 and 2016, more than 2500 persons in India were tortured and killed in these hunts, according to India's National Crime Records Bureau, the majority of them were women.

Almost 200 individuals, mostly women, have been killed in Assam, India's northeastern state, for witchcraft and sorcery. In 2017, numerous such occurrences were reported in Rajasthan, including the murder of Kanya Devi, a 40-year-old woman who was beaten to death after being accused of performing black magic. Despite being the poorest state in India, Bihar was the first to implement a law against witch-hunting in 1999.

Jharkhand and Rajasthan have passed laws to protect women from inhuman treatment and provide legal recourse to abuse. Section 3, 4, 5, and 6 of the concerned Act talk about the punishment which will be granted if anyone identifies someone as a witch, tries to cure the witch, and any damages caused to them.

Section 7 states the procedure for trial. The Chhattisgarh bill was established to prevent atrocities on women in the name of Tonhi. Almost 200 individuals, primarily women, have been killed in Assam, India's northeastern state, for witchcraft and sorcery. Witch-hunting is a common practice among indigenous people in Assam and adjoining areas. Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are fighting to prevent and protect women from the societal scourge of witch hunts.

Pertinency Of Witch Hunting In The Contemporary World

Witch hunts are being carried out today in communities where magic is widely believed. The majority of them are lynchings and burnings , which have been recorded on a regular basis over much of Sub-Saharan Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Papua New Guinea. Furthermore, several nations have laws prohibiting the practice of sorcery. Saudi Arabia is the only nation where witchcraft is still officially punished by death. Even in the twenty-first century, witch hunts are far from extinct. This is still a terrible reality for many women in many nations today. As a result, the 10th of August has been designated as a World Day Against Witch Hunts.

In recent times, the UNHCR of the United Nations has consistently highlighted witch-hunts as a huge violation of human rights. The majority of those accused are women and children, but they can also be elderly persons or members of stigmatized groups such as albinos and HIV-positive people. As a result, these victims are frequently pushed away, starved to death, or slain violently, sometimes by their own relatives in acts of social cleansing.

Poverty, diseases, societal upheavals, and a lack of knowledge are all factors that contribute to witch hunts. The witch-leader, hunt's usually a prominent member of the community or a "witch doctor," may also profit financially by charging for exorcisms or selling the victims' body parts.

In India, some individuals, mostly in rural, believe that witchcraft and black magic are effective. On the one side, people may seek witch doctor counsel for health, financial, or marital issues. People, particularly women, are accused of witchcraft and assaulted, with some being killed. It has been observed that the majority of the victims are widows or divorcees who have been robbed of their belongings.

According to reports, renowned local witch-doctors are paid to brand certain individuals as witches, allowing them to be murdered without repercussions. Existing legislation have been deemed unsuccessful in reducing homicides. In June 2013, the National Commission for Women (NCW) revealed that 768 women have been murdered for allegedly practicing witchcraft since 2008, according to National Crime Records Bureau figures, and proposed preparations for newer regulations.

Because there is no explicit national legislation that criminalizes witch-hunting, the provisions of the Indian Penal Code 1860 might be utilized as a substitute for the victim. Sec. 302, which punishes murder, Sec. 307, which punishes attempted murder, Sec. 323, which punishes harm, Sec. 376, which punishes rape, and Sec. 354, which punishes outraging a woman's modesty, are the various provisions mentioned in such circumstances.

Witch-hunting is a blatant violation of a citizen's fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution. It violates the Indian Constitution's Articles 14, 15(3), 15(4), 21, 51, and 51A(h), as well as other national laws such as the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and involves acts punishable under the Indian Penal Code,1860.

Several states have also devised and deployed their own tools to combat this crime. Bihar passed the Prevention of Witch (DAAIN) Practices Act in 1999, which was then adopted by Jharkhand in 2001. In 2005, the Chhattisgarh Tonhi Pratadna Nivaran Act was enacted. Rajasthan and Assam were the most recent states in 2015 to pass legislation on the subject.

Elucidation Of At Hand Solutions

There were no stringent laws on the issue prior to the establishment of state-level legislation on the subject, and the accused were prosecuted under Indian Penal Code Section 323, 354, 509, and the savage actions of stoning and tonsuring were considered as simple harm. Furthermore, existing laws are insufficient since they focus on punitive mechanisms rather than the need to eliminate unreasonable and bad superstitious beliefs.

The methods for reporting instances are likewise restricted, and the victims' and survivors' urgent needs are not met. Because the attacks are depicted as the consequence of mob rage, the accused (typically influential males in the town) are frequently left unpunished.

Because of their fear or acceptance of the practice, victims and others seldom come forward to report it. The offenders are released due to a lack of proof. Witch-hunting is a violation of civil rights guaranteed by international treaties and the Constitution, including the right to security, the right to life, the right to be free from discrimination, the right to a decent life, and other basic rights.

Shri Raghav Lakhanpal presented the Prevention of Witch Hunting Bill in the Lok Sabha in 2016, however it was never approved. Currently, there is no efficient system in place to assist victims in recovering from the effects of witch-hunting, such as forced displacement, expulsion from the community, social and economic boycotts, and so on. As a result, national legislation is urgently needed to combat this scourge.

In 2015, the film 'Kala Sacch' was released, based on a true story in Jharkhand in which a woman named Seeta Devi was suspected of being a witch and was punished by having her body pierced with needles and her husband disabled, but the accused were not found guilty. The film was part of a campaign to get the federal government to pass laws on the issue.

Cessation For The Topic And Way Forward

While witch-hunting may appear to be a thing of the past, it is nevertheless practiced in rural India today. Women are tortured, robbed, and killed as a result of being identified as witches in modern-day witch hunts. Giving a woman this name is a powerful and deadly act, whether it's because someone wants their property or they need someone to blame for an unpleasant incident.

How is it permissible to classify someone as socially inferior or undesirable in this period, where we talk of women's growth, women empowerment, and gender equality, i.e. feminism? Every year, thousands of women, men, and children are tortured to death, and the rise in cases shows that legislation and efforts by associated NGOs are insufficient until people alter their beliefs. Every year, the number of such incidents rises, indicating how far society has regressed.

The tradition of witch-hunting is still practiced in India today. The causes for this include a lack of national law, a lack of evidence and reporting, and inefficient enforcement of existing rules. Today, there is a major anti-witch-hunting movement. Laws have been enacted, and support groups exist to assist women in obtaining legal assistance. Even though there has been a rise in awareness of this issue in the last four years, it hasn't halted the practice. Women continue to be concerned about their safety.

Despite the fact that it is under-reported and a long-standing practice, the figures are improving. It is gradually reducing, and the legislation is becoming more widely applied This heinous practise of witch-hunting may be put to an end if only proper measures and regulations are enacted. Reforms and actions have been implemented on an international, national, and regional level to prevent and eliminate such immoral acts, consequently reducing prejudice and violence against women. At this point, the attention and redressal of such domains are necessary.

One component of justice might be argued in the outlawing of witchcraft. Poor and inadequate regulation, police investigations, inattentive prosecution, and other factors are important roadblocks in the process of providing victims with relaxation. Reformative measures should be adopted, as well as remedies such as compensation, assistance, community discourse, and safety from violence.

Additionally, awareness should be raised in order to address the long-term issues linked with this atrocity. Provisions for education, health, and a responsive law enforcement agency, among other things, should be created to assist us remove such ills and behaviors and dream of a healthy society.

Reference:
  • https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/society-the-arts/books/story/20030602-book-review-archana-mishras-casting-the-evil-eye-witch-trials-in-tribal-india-792643-2003-06-02
  • https://www.allresearchjournal.com/archives/2021/vol7issue1/PartC/7-1-37-174.pdf
  • Casting The Evil Eye By Archana Mishra
  • https://www.dw.com/en/witch-hunts-a-global-problem-in-the-21st-century/a-54495289
  • Ahluwalia, Tara. Not dated. Bhilwara mein dayan pratha: ek report. New Delhi: JAGORI.
  • 1991. Women as victims? Witches, judges and the community. French History, 5 (4): 438-450.
  • Carstairs, G.M. 1983. Death of a witch: a village in North India 1950-1981 London: Hutchinson.
  • Chaudhuri, A B. 1981. Witch killings amongst Santals. New Delhi: Ashish Publishing House
  • Geis, Gilbert. 2007. The path of the devil: early modern witch hunts, by Gary Jensen. Reviewed in Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews, 36 (2): 176-177.
  • Partners for Law in Development (PLD). 2012a. Targeting of women as witches: trends, prevalence and the law in northern, western, eastern and northeastern regions of India. New Delhi: PLD.
  • http://theviewspaper.net/witch hunting-in-india/
  • (Witch-Hunt Victims Memorial. | Odisha Police, 2022)
  • Francois Marie Arouet Voltaire
  • A Treatise in Toleration'. In Voltaire, Tobias George Smollett (ed.) and William F. Fleming (trans.), The Works of Voltaire (1904), Vol. 4, 265

Suggested Articles:
  1. Witch-Hunting: A Barbaric Practice that Threatens Women Even Today
  2. Need For Statutory Restrictions On Witchcraft
  3. Black Magic and Witchcraft cases: A Legal Analysis
  4. Feminist Criminology And Integrated Theory


Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Anisha Arya & Ms.Ritika Mishra

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