The countless fans of the Harry Potter series are fascinated by the mystery and witchcraft, but how many of us have ever wondered that the term ‘witchcraft’ can be used to provoke a person to commit suicide?
Pinky (name changed) is a strong woman who lives in Delhi and who has survived several witch-hunt attacks attempted on her by her in-laws.
She is among the many women in India who are often “titled” as witches and boycotted from society. This practice of Dayan Pratha or ‘witch hunting’ is prevalent in Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh, and is hidden in several other places.
Women are being killed and specially targeted by being branded as witches. Anything that happens abruptly, which does not favour a person or the family, is attached to the cause that the woman (daughter-in-law/wife) is the witch. She is the unlucky one, responsible for all the mishaps.
Pinky is in her 40s, she grew up believing in the existence of God. She prayed and regularly went to the temple. After her wedding, she relaxed her religious beliefs and practices but did not stop them entirely. Once at her husband’s home, she was being ill-treated and taunted for her dark complexion. And soon, there were complaints about her religious beliefs as well: she was taunted for being a witch.
Women, beware, especially if you are religious, habituated to regular prayers, even practicing positive-spiritual healing, fond of dream catchers, or mandala art.
27 women in Jharkhand were lynched after being accused of witchcraft, followed by 24 in Odisha.
This is not an old concept, but a reality, not just in rural areas, but a common mode of boycotting the daughter-in-law even in urban cities like Delhi and Mumbai. This leads the woman to mental agony and torture, where she is often beaten with belts, stripped naked, with the claim that these acts will remove the witch inside her.
Pinky survived the attacks and abuses, but they left her broken from inside. Even her husband did nothing to ease the situation for her, as his siblings sided with his parents to trouble her further.
“I am alive because they couldn’t kill me physically, under the law of the land. But no one could stop them from killing me from within. They used their tongues which were greater than actually hitting me,” she says.
She continues, “They (in-laws) often told me that I couldn’t accompany them to social events since I wear a different tika on my forehead and a Rudraksh around my neck.”
These instances have been covered by the media. In 2014, national athlete Debjani Bora, who had won several gold medals in Javelin, was accused of witchcraft in Assam and brutally assaulted by the villagers.
The physical attacks and murders are reported to police and are recognised as crimes under law. These may have reduced since the old days, but this article addresses modern forms of witch-hunting practiced in towns and cities even today.
The legal action against such incidents involving physical tortures is well taken care of under the law. Various state laws have been implemented especially for this.
To name a few:
- Prevention of Witch (Dayan) Practices Act–Bihar;
- Rajasthan Government enacted the Rajasthan Prevention of Witch-hunting Act, 2015;
- Odisha government enacted the Odisha Prevention of Witch-hunting Act, 2013 which became enforceable in February 2014;
- Chhattisgarh government enacted the Chhattisgarh Tonahi Pratadna Nivaran Act, 2005;
These acts have been passed by the respective state legislatures. There is, however, no central law to restrict the practice or its modern forms at the national level.
It is also important to note that modern witch hunting is a result of age-old beliefs or deep-rooted stereotypical notions against females and bias against women.
Ill-treated, tagged as witches, socially boycotted, taunted, these are ways of discrimination where grudges against the woman are spelled out when she doesn’t follow customs and social norms of the new family and stands different on her own.
These attacks also happen on the internet, targeting a person or group who holds an unorthodox or unpopular view, where the woman becomes the ‘witch’.
Legal protection against Witch-hunting
The provisions under Indian Penal Code 1860 can be used, and sections invoked in such cases are
- Sec 302 – charge for murder,
- Sec 307 – an attempt for murder,
- Sec 323 – hurt,
- Sec 376 – rape
- and Sec 354 – outraging a woman’s modesty.
It is also punishable if a woman commits suicide due to torture.
One can file under cruelty when there is:
- Persistent denial of food,
- Constant locking of the woman outside the house,
- Taunting, demoralising and putting down the woman with the intention of causing mental torture,
- Denying the woman access to [her] children, thereby causing mental torture,
- Confining the woman at home and not allowing her normal social intercourse,
American actor Madchen Amick once said, “The whole concept of witches was that women were speaking up for themselves and fighting for their rights. The whole concept of witchcraft came into play to hold down women and women’s empowerment.”
So all the strong women out there, be who you are and believe in what you like without harming anybody. Fight and stand against witch hunting just like Pinky did. Take help from law because no orthodox social custom can weigh you down or discourage you if you follow the law and don’t harm anyone.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)