The medieval witchcraft age was perhaps the darkest era in Europe when witches were persecuted and burnt alive. However, in the 21st century India, witches are still hounded in the remotest regions.
On August 21, 2012, a 50 year old woman in Rajasthan’s Ajmer district caught the attention of media when she filed the police complaint against her neighbors accusing them of branding her a witch and beating up her along with her daughter.
The women Bhuri Devi, a resident of Kajipur village near Kekari town about 150 km from the capital Jaipur, has got the first information report registered at the police station accusing at least half a dozen people of beating her and her daughter.
The woman reported that at least half a dozen people from her neighborhood barged into her house and started abusing and beating her up. These people claimed she was a witch and was casting evil spell on people in the village. The neighbors not only abused her and her 20 year old daughter verbally and physically but also threatened them that they would be killed if they did not leave the village.
The police registered her case. “It seems the neighbors want to grab her property,” said the police.
Several cases of women being harassed on false accusation of practicing witchcraft have been reported from various parts of India. However, such cases have been more numerous in Rajasthan forcing the state government to draft a bill to curb the evil practice against women.
According to the draft Rajasthan Women (Prevention and Protection from Atrocities) Bill, 2011, “a crime would be considered to have been committed when any person or community intentionally or inadvertently abets, conspires, aids and instigates the identification of a woman as a witch, leading to her mental and physical torture and humiliation”. If the accused usurps or grabs the property of such women, they could very likely be sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment along with fine.
As recently as March and April, 2012, four women in the Jharkhand state of India were hacked to death on the pretext of practicing witchcraft. In Lohardaga’s Lawagai village throats of Sushil Oraon and Jhibi Oraon were slit on March 10, 2012, while the head of Budhva Mahali was severed and his wife Etwari Mahali suffered a macabre death at Haslata village in Gumla district on April 16, 2012.
According to a published report in The Times of India, a tribal woman in a village in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India was subjected to extreme torture:
A group of villagers ... took the woman to a deserted location and forced her to pick a silver coin from a vessel containing boiling oil. The woman suffered severe burns on both her hands and she fell unconscious. However, this did not deter the villagers and they thrashed her badly with hot iron rods due to which she received head injuries. [...]
The villagers then dumped her outside her house. Her family members, including her husband, did not allow her inside…”
Clearly then, in the 21st century India unless women are empowered and the remote regions developed, the social life of poor and especially poor women would remain vulnerable to multiple exploitation, humiliation and physical and mental torture.