Written by Sindhura C.S. of S D M Law College, Mangalore
Edited by Tushar Nigam.
Witchcraft is a term that varies culturally and societally and it is difficult to define with precision. It is a practice of magical skills, abilities and spells. Witchcraft is a worldwide traditional culture notably in Asia, South America, Africa and indigenous communities in America. This term is associated with the people who use supernatural means to cause harm to the innocent. The word witchcraft is over a thousand years old, the old English formed the compound witchcraft from “wicce” (witch) and “craeft” (craft). In many places witches are viewed as those opposed to the sacred indigenous religions. But anthropologists writing about healers in indigenous communities either use the traditional terminology of these cultures, or broad anthropological terms like “shaman”. In modern era people use the term witchcraft to refer to positive, benign, or neutral practices of such modern paganism. But this is primarily a western modern, popular culture phenomenon. The existence of concept of the witchcraft and its belief have persisted throughout recorded history. They have been present or central in many diverse forms among cultures and religions worldwide, including both primitive and highly advanced cultures in various times. It also continues to have an important role in many cultures today.[i]
ACCUSATION OF WITCHCRAFT ON WOMEN
Mostly women are accused of practicing witchcraft and witch hunts were all about persecuting the women. Women were regarded as the powerless and precarious group in the society. The society has prescribed roles for women such as have babies, raise children, and manage household life. When they step outside their prescribed roles, they became targets. Mostly the tribal women are branded as witches as they are in minority and indigenous people. In urban imagination, witchcraft is a part of myths and stories and foreign folklore. In history there were many stories of witch hunt during the middle ages in Europe. In that many women were being charged with apostasy and heresy and consequently burnt at the stake for sorcery. There are several instances of lynching and murder of several women by accusing them as witches in witch hunts. More than the murder of such accused their lives are relentless story of violence, abuse and terror. Despite of the anti-witchcraft acts legislations, witch hunting continues with impunity.
The history and the research studies depict that, there were numerous witch trail and witch hunts over all the world, in this women vastly outnumbered the men in the ranks of accusation, allegation and execution. When we look back into the history, the Salem witch trail of 1692 was the popular witch trail in this 14 of the 19 people found guilty and executed for witchcraft were women. In American history also women were both the victims and accused of witchcraft.
In India during the ancient times, witchcraft or demonology was a practice sanctioned by Hindu scriptures, according to the book, “Witchcraft: A study in Indian Occultism”, published in 1981 by R N Saletore. Many Indians resisted the law penalizing witch hunting when it was passed in the mid-1800. They thought the law was preventing them from punishing wrong-doers. Although now modernization have changed the people’s belief in these practices, but still some communities believe still prevails the superstition.
The accusation of witchcraft and resistance are offered to those who dare to challenge patriarchal norms and superstitions and mostly women of middle ages. The roots of the violence of witch hunting is not only in the specific religious or cultural beliefs and superstitions but also in the cold calculations of patriarchal mindsets. Some people accuse women for witchcraft to see their end if they are women with property, or who refused sexual advances, or women with petty disputes. To take revenge and punish them, they accuse women for witchcraft. But this is not true in all the cases.[ii]
IS SUCH PRACTICE STILL PREVALENT?
By education, awareness and modernization many people do not believe witchcraft, its practices and superstitions. But there are some people of minority or indigenous community who still believes such practices and some other do violence in the name of witch hunting. In fact, in India, witchcraft related deaths are reported every third day with majority of the victims being women. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, from 2008 to 2013, Jharkhand saw 220 witch hunting related murders of women. From 2015- 2017, more than 250 women were subjected to witch hunting in Bihar.In 2017 a women named Ramavati Devi was accused for witchcraft and burnt alive by her neighbors. Not a single day goes by without local report or some form of public acknowledgement of violence against women in the name of witch hunting. All these incidents and reports depicts that such practices and accusation on women for witchcraft is still prevalent. [iii]
Image Courtesy: Live Science