Hundreds of women in India’s conservative villages have been killed or tortured after being accused of witchcraft. Those who survive are shunned and live in poor conditions. The accused women, primarily from adivasi (tribal) populations, are often victims of land disputes or gender discrimination.
Sumitra Padmanabhan, chairman of the Science and Rationalists’ Association of India, reports that, after something goes wrong in a village, “What spreads is that there must be somebody casting an evil eye. [The villagers] decide who is the culprit, who has this evil eye. From there they point out a person and have a meeting. The next day that person is humiliated, tortured or even killed.”
The concept of witch hunting is based on superstition. Biplab Das, who opposes witch-hunts, says that a decrease in rainfall means more cases of witch hunting, which leads to more women tortured and killed. This is because children begin falling sick, crops are harder to grow and the villagers become more stressed. Das says that witch hunting is a way of relieving stress from the villagers.
A combination of poor health facilities, illiteracy, and government corruption reinforces the customary influence of ojhas, traditional healers who also serve as mediators in village disputes. As important religious, political and social figures, ojha legitimize witch hunts by confirming the supposed involvement of witchcraft in any ill fortune, according to Soma Chaudhuri, a professor of sociology at Michigan State University. Dr Chaudhuri also notes that, while Indian newspapers report witch-hunts, they typically do not cover prosecutions of the accusers. This apparent neglect reflects the “patronizing and dismissive attitude of the Indian government” towards tribal issues and problems.
Kalpana Pradhan and Orlando de Guzman, “A Curse in the Family,” Al Jazeera, 25 February 25, 2013, http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/101east/2013/01/2013121101834161718.html
Student Researcher: Zebah Azam, College of Marin
Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman, College of Marin