The duality of the Indian existence is a reality we must constantly remind ourselves of , even when we might loathe the answers they provide. The news of India's surging female pilots, which defy the global average or the tremendous progress made by ISRO in furthering scientific thought and progress, must also be weighed against the widely-held superstitions and deep-rooted patriarchy, which Indians espouse to. If these stand-alone practices make our heads hang in shame, their confluence in the form of witch-hunting in India is perhaps one of the most unbelievable phenomenons to still exist in our times.
Brutality Spanning Decades
“In our village, a boy had been suffering from some ailments for several months. He confided to his parents that he dreamt of some witches, including myself, who had been harassing him. His parents narrated the incident to other villagers. Hearing upon this, the villagers flew into a rage and attacked us,"
"They beat us black and blue. Later, they torched our houses. The mob, subsequently, hacked to death three members of a family, including one-and-a-half-year-old child on July 3, 2001,”
Bahura Bai Was Branded A Witch And Attempts Were Made To Kill Her By Her Family. Image Credit: Baba Tamim/ Al-Jazeera
Teerath Sahu Was Beaten And Paraded Naked Until She Fainted After Being Dubbed A Witch Alongwith Two Other Women Image Credit: Baba Tamim/Al-Jazeera
"Single women are mostly targeted because they are weak and have no one to support or defend them. Also if a woman does not marry or is widowed, it usually is entitled to her father’s or husband’s property. In an attempt to get hold of the property, jealous relatives or villagers seek such illegal methods,”
“My stepbrother and I had inherited our land after the death of my father. In a bid to capture the property, my stepbrother in collusion with other persons branded me a witch,”
”One day, some villagers began to torture me. They even buried me with an intention to kill me, but I escaped,”
Aamir Khan once said that India’s laws reflect the society we inhabit, a statement which perfectly sums up India’s anti-witch hunting laws. The states of Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand,Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have specific anti- witch hunting laws while the Maharashtra’s umbrella Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifices and Other Inhuman, Evil and Aghori Practices and Black Magic Act of 2013 provides stipulations for witch-hunts.
The Anti-Witch Hunt Icon Is The Only North-East Woman To Be Nominated For The Nobel Prize Image Source: Better India
The other significant movement in the anti-witch hunt drive has started coming from civil society itself. Assam Mahila Samata Society is a woman’s rights group which has spear-headed the anti-witch hunt drive since 1995 with Birubala Raha, an icon of this movement. The only woman from the North-East to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Raha has been instrumental in saving the lives of more than 30 women after they were branded as witches. Raha used to subscribe to these traditional beliefs herself until one day when a prediction about her son’s death by ‘one possessed by God’ proved to be false. She then dedicated her life to protecting others from such persecution. The organisation has intervened in many cases where they were able to ensure that the women could resume their normal lives through dialogue and protection but in a few, women still face isolation and ostracisation as they continue living in the villages.