‘Witch’ Hunts Happen in India, Too

‘Witch’ Hunts Happen in India, Too October 29, 2014

I’ve written a lot about the barbaric witch hunts in many parts of Africa, but the Skeptical Inquirer reports that this is a common practice in India as well. Those accused of witchcraft, usually by someone who had something bad happen to them and are looking for someone to blame, are often murdered.

In India, a person accused of being a “dayan” or witch can be tortured, raped, hacked to death, or burned alive. Victims are often single older women, usually widows, but they can also be males or children…

Allegations of witchcraft that result in communal murder have long been a part of rural India’s history. Scholar Ajay Skaria, for instance, explored the torture and murder of women who were accused of being witches in British India. This practice has continued, though with irregularity, into the present. A 2013 Al Jazeera documentary explored the lives of women who were accused of practicing witchcraft. For those who are lucky enough to live after the accusations, they often are forced to move to a new area without resources to start their lives over. Many of the accusations have roots in property disputes, local politics, and disease, which then develop into allegations of witchcraft and then to violence…

In the last two years, there have been several notable murders involving allegations of witchcraft. In 2012, four people were murdered in about a month’s span in Jharkhand. If the suspects are convicted of breaking the Dayan Pratha law, they will face a longer prison sentence than if they just committed murder. Bimla Pradhan, Jharkhand’s social welfare minister, said the government has funded an awareness campaign to end the superstition that “has led to atrocities against women” (“Withcraft Claims Lives” 2012). Nevertheless, in November 2013, a mother and daughter in Jharkhand were pulled out of their home by villagers who took them to a nearby forest and slit their throats. After the mother’s husband died years before, rumors began that the women were witches, and villagers blamed the women for several children becoming ill. Regarding the murders, police said: “All I can say is the women seem to have been killed for witchcraft” (Mishra 2013)…

Witchcraft and murder is not isolated to these regions of India. A group of villagers in rural Odisha, a state on the East Coast, assaulted and forced three people, including two women, to walk naked through the village. In November 2013, a boy was killed in the same state and police arrested two people accused of the murder for killing him “for the purpose of human sacrifice” (“Boy Killed for Witchcraft” 2013). In 2005, Chhattisgarh, a state in central India, passed the Witchcraft Atrocities Prevention Act to stop the violence and murder. Most recently, in rural Chhattisgarh, two women in their fifties were killed by three boys. According to police, the father of one boy was ill and the other two boys’ fathers were dead. Believing the women were to blame, they “questioned those women about their involvement in witchcraft practices, but they refused to speak. This infuriated the boys who first strangled them and later slit their throats” (Drolia 2013). In 2011, a mother and daughter were accused of being witches in Assam, but police later discovered the accusations were used as a pretext for their rape. According to the Assam government, between 2006 to 2012 there were 105 “witch-hunting” cases with the government planning legislation to curb the violence (Pandey 2013).

Police in the Indian state of Assam estimate that 300 people have been killed in the last five years because they were accused of being witches.

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  • busterggi

    Dr. Rance Mandarin was right.

  • Sastra

    In his book The Better Angels of Our Nature Steven Pinker says that one of the most important prerequisites for the growth of Enlightenment values could be summed up in the bumper sticker slogan “Shit Happens.” As long as people assume that every bit of bad luck, illness, and death is personal and thus must be due to someone wishing them ill, it isn’t possible for human rights and scientific thinking to gain hold.

  • dingojack

    “मैं एक बार एक न्यूट में बदल गया था”!

    (यह बेहतर हो गया)



    OK, yes it’s a serious problem — but it’s laugh or cry (and I prefer the former).

    [Besides, I couldn’t resist].