Women, throughout history and even today, on a mere note of suspicion or rumour have been branded and abused as witches. To put it bluntly, in India this sordid atrocity still persists which is extinct in the rest of the world. As a modern superstition in India, women are brutally tortured, bludgeoned, burnt, paraded naked and even sexually assaulted which must raise our attention towards this violent crime against women.
Persecuted then and persecuted now – the story of the witch is that of a murderous hunt in the wake of mass hysteria, rivalries and suspicion. Women who are stigmatised as witches are not just victims of superstition but local politics, family and land disputes, property and gender conflicts. Due to jealous tensions, rivalries and vendettas, women are labelled as witches and viciously hunted to settle scores. These women belong to the minority castes and tribes which are relegated to the margins and as such they suffer double marginalization due to their social group as well as gender (Note Sarna- a rigidly patriarchal indigenous religion in Jharkand where women already suffer servitude according to its diktats). Apart from this, it is also to be noted that most of the women targeted and lynched ail from mental illnesses.
In a witch-hunt, once there is a crisis in a village, witch doctors or ojhas are called to single out women for torture and extermination in order to eliminate the apparent malevolence infecting the society. The perpetrators are not only men but also womenfolk who are so tainted with religious superstition and vengeance that this sadistic practice is seen as a necessary purgation than a crime.
Iniquitous, widespread and immoral as this ritual is – it is still invasive. Women in remote areas are being, since ancient times, butchered in open with religious as well as societal validation. They cannot speak. When they do utter a cry, it is pitilessly silenced, ignored and deemed as irrelevant.
A powerful democracy with strides of modernity, India, is truly a paradox. It is a clamorous plea to the authorities of every department of law, medicine, politics and police force to immediately rectify this social menace forthwith. Certain steps which have been time and again engendered are reiterated here to suggest that steps are in place but there is shocking laxity in their implementation.
• Provide proper medical facilities and practitioners in rural areas so as to eliminate complete reliance and trust the folks have in witch doctors.
• Police action needs to be enforced stringently as many times it has been seen that perpetrators are let out on bail and roam freely which sets a terrible precedent.
• State governments, NGOs, social activists and groups should spread awareness that witch-hunting is a crime than a divine ritual.
• Criminalise witch-hunting and if laws are in place, the implementation must be exacting.
Besides these basic steps, the activists and agencies who are working to eradicate witch-hunt should be empowered so that they can fulfil their goals and projects without red tape, political restrictions and other nefarious complicities and agendas.