India Struggles to Eradicate an Old Scourge: Witch Hunting
Category: OtherVia: hallux • 3 weeks ago • 29 comments
By: Suhasini Raj - NYT
They ushered the young woman into their home and closed the door behind her. Then the beating began.
“You are a witch,” shouted one of the attackers, as she, her parents and her uncle rained punches, kicks and slaps on the 26-year-old woman’s stomach, chest and face.
When the pummeling finally ended, after nearly two hours, the young woman was pulled outside by her hair, dragged through her village and dumped, unconscious, next to a temple, her clothing barely clinging to her battered body.
The attack, in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand in 2021, was evidence that India is still struggling to eradicate the age-old scourge of witch hunting, despite a raft of laws and other initiatives.
Superstition hasn’t gone away . But witchcraft accusations are now often simply a tool to oppress women, victims’ advocates say. The motives can be to grab land, to ostracize a woman to settle a score, or to justify violence.
In the Jharkhand case, the young woman who was attacked, Durga Mahato, said the trouble started when she refused the sexual advances of a prominent man in the village. He, his brother, his wife and their daughter then declared Ms. Mahato a witch before luring her to their home and attacking her.
Ms. Mahato, her husband, Nirmal, and a local police officer described the assault, during which the prominent man threatened to rape her, she said. All four attackers have been charged under anti-witch-hunt laws; the man and his brother are on bail after spending a few months in jail.
“I have three young children. I dare not contemplate suicide,” she said.
Witch hunting still exists in varying measures across nearly a dozen Indian states, mostly in Indigenous tribal areas in central and eastern parts of the country, experts say. Many states have passed laws against the practice. Some, like Assam, have made penalties more stringent, with provisions of life imprisonment . Others, like Odisha, have supplemented legal efforts by setting up memorials to victims at police stations in a bid to sensitize people.
Women branded witches have had their nails pulled out, been forced to eat feces, been paraded naked or been beaten black and blue. They have been burned or lynched. From 2010 to 2021, more than 1,500 people were killed in India after accusations of witchcraft, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
Jharkhand has taken a hands-on approach in trying to tackle the practice. A state-run program called Project Garima has deployed about 25 “witch-hunting prevention campaign teams,” which conduct street plays to raise awareness. Village-level protection committees aid survivors of violence. Centers have been set up to provide legal aid and short-stay arrangements for victims. Workers staffing a help desk call survivors directly to get an update on their psychological and economic status.
But law enforcement can be weak. Madhu Mehra, the founder of a legal resource group for women, said that her organization, in a study on witch hunting across three states , including Jharkhand, found that the police usually intervened only in cases of murder or attempted murder. That, and the difficulty of changing entrenched beliefs, has helped allow the practice to persist, activists say.
In Ms. Mahato’s case, the most helpful assistance came not from the government, but from another witch-hunt victim, Chhutni Mahato, who has been recognized by the Indian government for her work in trying to eliminate the practice.
Durga Mahato’s aunt had heard about the work of Chhutni Mahato (the two women are not related). Durga found refuge for weeks in Chhutni’s mud-and-tile-roofed home after spending two weeks in the hospital.
Chhutni Mahato’s broken teeth are testimony to the torture she once bore at the hands of villagers who blamed her for a girl’s illness. She ran away and years later began working with a nongovernmental organization.
One of them is Dukhu Majhi, who lives in a picturesque village a couple of hundred miles from Durga Mahato’s.
In Ms. Majhi’s case, suspicion fell on her simply because she did not conform to neighbors’ expectations. Villagers wondered how a “normal woman” could live by herself with her young children, deep in the forest, while her husband was away for work.
Then they labeled her a witch.
“If someone’s stomach aches, I am blamed. If a headache happens, I am blamed. They would stand outside my house and shout, ‘She is the witch causing us grief,’” Ms. Majhi said. “I would retort: Do I become a witch just because you are saying so?”
“I clung hard to my children. We were all shaking,” Ms. Majhi said.
She and her husband went to the police to complain. Pintu Mahato, a local police official, tried to play down the case.
Mr. Mahato, seated one recent day on a plastic chair outside the police station, said that the case had been settled by village elders and that everyone was living happily together again.
He had clearly not been following up on the case.
Ms. Majhi had in fact moved out of her house soon after the attack. She and her family took refuge with Chhutni Mahato for a few days before finding a room near a larger city. Her husband found a new job.
They visit their house in the middle of the forest once in a while, to check on their meager belongings and their kitchen garden, and to give their children a chance to sprawl out on the charpoy beds.
In this day and age.....I have no words.
It's ignorance and lack of education. They haven't moved from the medieval days
What worries me is the return of these attitudes in our own country.
We still see prejudice from religious fundamentalists who don't understand what Wicca is and think it's all connected to Devil Worship. Witch hunting is still prevalent in Africa from what I understand
Religious superstition (specifically about this) returning to our country makes me worried and angry, too! I tire of people falling back into ignorance after receiving enlightenment. The problem does manifest evidently as people reading the wrong sources of information and internalizing none or limited amounts of information that confirms that witches are NOT proven creatures of magic-making or the supernatural. At best, if any of those villagers worries and concerns are in need of investigation: look for hard evidence through autopsy of the animals, checking the well water (table) for signs of foul play. . .or drought, sending out the sick, diseased, and injured to medical doctors to verify or rule out biological causes - all before harming another individual in the name and service to a (lazy) feeling or uneasiness one has about a particular individual.
Lastly, somebody should 'airdrop' leaflets or books even on the topic of the Salem Witch hunts in America and how foolish and red-faced our nation is over its superstitious beginnings and treatment of otherwise innocent girls and women—so many lives lost to a dumb ideology!
The Churches of the United States and that includes US missionaries to foreign lands are PRONE to witchcraft and sorcery ideology, because the Bible with its old testament reference to witchcraft Exodus 22: 18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. . . .
And so goes the commentary:
(18) Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. --The word translated "witch" in this passage is the feminine singular of that rendered by "sorcerers" in Exodus 7:11 , and means "a mutterer of charms." The use of the feminine form can only be accounted for by supposing that, practically, witchcraft was at the time mainly professed by females. Whether "witches" had actual help from evil spirits, or only professed to work magical effects by their aid, the sin against God was the same. Jehovah was renounced, and a power other than His invoked and upheld. Witchcraft was as much rebellion against God as idolatry or blasphemy, and deserved the same punishment.
. . . is encased (seared) into the minds of every (new) believer who does not explore a/ny deeper understanding and explanation for what is natural and what is real in this world from outside relevant sources such as: Science and Medicine.
Witch hunting is still prevalent in Africa from what I understand
I have read that as well. And what they do to these people is horrendous.
I am so tired of being asked if I worship Satan.
am so tired of being asked if I worship Satan.
Just chalk that up to ignorance and downright hatefulness
I usually do, but when it comes from family it is a bitter pill to swallow.
We still see prejudice from religious fundamentalists who don't understand what Wicca is and think it's all connected to Devil Worship.
I've seen similar when talking with some more conservative people about yoga. The ignorance is sooo bad.
I've seen people dismiss yoga as satanic, also.
I just shake my head
There is so much stigmatization that goes again witches (whom the world has a love/hate relationship of sorts with): the characters being portrayed as "beautiful/good" or "hideous/wicked" (can we all just say we loved Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus and Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon in The Witches of Eastwick - finally an all time favorite: Elizabeth Montgomery in Bewitched!)? And, it would be remiss to not mention: Rose McGowan, Alyssa Milano, and Holly Marie Combs in CHARMED.
On the flipside, Janet Montgomery in Salem (the Series) was a horror story, and Julian Sands as the singularly focused, determined, sociopathic witch in Warlock.
Classic witches of all time: Glinda- the good witch and her famous opposite witch,Bastinda both in Wizard of Oz.
Our country has a rich history of successful witch movie franchises, though it is clear that none of the above shows goes the "extra" distance, that is out of their way, to point out that all of this is just good clean fun!
I am wondering do Wiccans have any idea just how potent that one verse in Exodus is in the mind of each succeeding generation of Christian believers? Especially when a new believer looks to the old testament for instruction? That verse 'haunts' the new/old believers throughout their lives as an avoidance and as one on which to rain down "judgement."
I will confide with you when I first read the old testament directive about witches. . . the bitterness I felt towards such professors of the 'art' was palpable. It took deeper study and reasoning these matters out and of course - science and its literature to come up from that angst/outright hatred.
Sadly, for many believers, certain biblical passages serve - even today - as license and permission to mistreat, abuse, and hate professors of (suggestive) magical arts!
I think as knowledge grows and ignorance is eradicated, Wiccans will be able to breathe easier. That's my hope anyway
Considering I am a former Catholic I can attest to the hatred that certain Christian factions feel towards witches and Wiccans. I grew up "knowing" that magick was "bad" and "evil". That witches loved Satan and that I as a person with certain gifts would have been killed in an earlier century and that I should still hide those gifts because they are from Satan.
I grew up and learned that the Catholics & other Christians are wrong. I now respect and worship Mother Earth and use my gifts to the happiness & health of myself & others.
The problem is this: A believer or one ne'er to the Bible is more apt to read the Exodus verse - Exodus 22: 18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. . . . t hen s/he is to encounter a Wiccan. It behooves the Wiccan community to get as much exposure (the truth out) as it can-against the myths and falsification of Wiccan portrayed by Hollywood. Heavens, Wiccans can even ask Hollywood film companies to aid in correct the narrative .
All any one of us (including political conservatives/liberals and conservative/liberal Christians) in our collectives or groups need to do is remember the watch phrase: Do No Harm. There really is plenty good room in our country for all of us (even the Crazies) if they apply the aforementioned guiding principle!
My wish for India is (more and more) enlightenment on what is (and is not) a true Wiccan.
Triage means that some live and some die in a multiple casualty situation.
Exactly, unfortunately the reality is that all victims aren’t equal.
I carry a pistol these days. Have practiced with it a lot.
Situational awareness is everything.
Exactly, fear drives todays open and concealed carry culture.
"Do no harm" is an attitude, cjcold. Triage means "urgency" and it is acceptable that some speedy judgements are rendered. I have never done this service in any shape or form; good on you for being responsible to take on the task of saving lives and doing so as best you could!
What these mean-spirited, confused, and murderous people are doing is not time-factored. It is deliberate and misguided abuse/harm/injury/death to those they consider witches based on some superstitious rendering of words they once-twice-thrice-or more have read and regurgitated. And it is not the reading of those harming words that is at fault. It is the lack of applying "the whole of the book" concept to the statement. Thus, rendering the verse inert.
Aside. What may help with the nightmares, might help, is doing your waking hours CONFIRM out-loud to yourself that you did nothing wrong: You did your best: It is the best that you could have done at the time. It works for me! As I had repeating 'hellish' dreams too. Until one day I called my subconscious mind OUT for what it was doing to me in my sleep. I no longer have those dreams.
Speak out-loud about it in CONFIRMATION to yourself! I am not suggesting you let anyone else in on your "discussion."
Witches are benign, their hunters are not.