Witch hunting and witch branding is a practise followed by tribal communities in which a woman is labeled as witch and then she has to go through various disastrous consequences like eating human excrement, paraded naked through the villages , brutally beaten up by the village people and in some cases she is even murdered. Witch hunting and witch branding is a practice not only followed in India but also in different countries like Europe , South Africa, Papua New Guinea , Kenya etc. whereas in India it is performed in different states like Jharkhand , Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Assam , Odisha etc .
Millions in India do what they can to protect themselves and this include murdering a woman by branding her as a witch. This is done because of lack of awareness but there are many cases in which there is an intentional cause for labelling a woman as witch . This includes many reasons and that depends on what was the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator.
The causes can include sexual violence , property issues , personal grudge etc. Some genuinely believe that such things do exist and it can harm them while in most cases someone or the other is benefited from their deaths. In tribal areas people are so blindfolded with this idea that they do not want to know the real motive of the person who is labelling a particular woman as witch .The consequences of this witch branding is such that to break the powers of these alleged witches , they are brutally beaten and forced to eat human excrement , others are stripped and paraded naked through villages. Witch branding was increased when government introduced right of women over ancestral property.
According to various surveys conducted it was noted that over 1000s of women were killed in the name of witch hunting
People believe that the woman who is branded as witch are the cause of destruction in their lives.That is why they do anything to get rid of it.But behind this superstitious belief , there lies an evil intention of the perpetrator , ready to exploit weak woman.
Mostly in tribal areas vulnerable women are the soft targets because they are the one who have more oppressive lives . There is so much control over their sexuality, chastity that they are found to be more mentally ill than men . Unlike men, they need another place to become what they want to be and the regular treatment is so primitive that they end up going to ojhas ( witch detecting doctors). There they behave differently and gain attention or empathy from her family members . She does this because before performing such things ,her views were not accepted but now she is treated well in her family.
Its very obvious that women are the soft targets that is why we do not hear terms like wizard hunt more often. Greed of money has always been a major cause of commitment of various heinous crimes in which humanity has always been on stake.
Different states have different acts related to this offence but are they really enough to curb the situation or do we need special laws?
EXISTING LAWS TO CURB WITCH HUNTS/WITCH BRANDING PRACTICES :
Provisions under IPC:
There no such specific provision as witch hunting in INDIAN PENAL CODE , 1860. However, the offence is punishable under section 302 - charge for murder , section- 307- an attempt to murder , section 323 - hurt, section 376- rape and section 354 - outraging a woman’s modesty. It is also punishable if a woman commits suicide due to torture.
One can also file under cruelty when there is , persistent denial of food , constant locking of the woman outside the house , taunting , demoralizing etc. Presently we do not have a separate law for the offence of witch hunting which in one way or another trivialize its existence as a heinous offence .
Also the problem arises when this matter is not given nation wide attention and is only handled by separate state legislature . For example, different states have made different acts to curb witch hunting /witch branding practices.
TULA DEVI AND OTHERS VS. STATE OF JHARKHAND
In this case ,10 people entered the house of the complainant and were armed with sticks. They woman was beaten up by them and when her husband came to rescue her , he was beaten too. This case was dismissed due to the lack of eye witness.
As mentioned earlier , different states have different laws for punishing the perpetrator . But here the fact to be noticed is that there are different punishment levels for the same crime i.e. witch hunting or branding . This creates a chaos because the degree of punishment is totally changed if we compare it state wise. Here , the need for its nation wide acceptance as a heinous crime arises. A uniform law , which deals with this issue and the culprits gets the same degree of punishment irrespective of their domicile. Also the laws are vague about the rights of male victims who belong to lower caste and have been treated the same way as a woman is treated in the branding and hunting process.
Reforms : Social and Legal
The society in which we are surviving today is a result of various reforms , be it legal or social . The law has always been known to evolve with changing time and the same goes with the society . Be it Sati Pratha , triple talaq , homosexual relationships and many more . Social and legal reforms goes hand in hand . One cannot be implemented in the absence of other . Legislature may make laws but it is of no use if the mindset of society is not changed. Witch hunt / branding is an issue which needs socio-legal reforms.
The different protection gaps in law suggests that only criminalizing this offence is not the cure. This offence needs to be studied thoroughly and the people holding he authority should check all the deficiencies which are becoming the obstruction in labelling this crime as heinous as rape as it takes the dignity of the woman in front of 1000s of people forever . The officials should check if the problem is from their side . Poor investigation , having reliable testimony, on ground visits plays a important role in making a case strong or weak.
Taking in view the social reform , it is equally important as legal reforms . Education system is poor in tribal communities , hence they are not able to process sudden tragedies and failing to understand the logical reason behind that particular issue , they tend to co- relate that issue with superstition and then they take advice of the ojhas as a result of which one or the other innocent women is branded as witch and if any mishap occurs , she is blamed for that . This is due to lack of educational knowledge because of which the whole community accept this fact without questioning it .
Now when we talk about the actual perpetrators then they know very well that the woman who are they blaming to be a witch is innocent . It is their malafied intentions behind this branding and hunting. Land, property, jealousy, sexual misconducts , caste based discrimination are the root causes which are common in such cases. It is also been noticed that widows are the easy targets of these perpetrators as they have no one to whom they ask for help.
Awareness programs led by government can make a huge difference in the tribal communities as it the only source through which they can have the knowledge that no such thing as “witch” exist in this entire world.
Door to door awareness programs , nukkad nataks ,camps etc plays a major role in grabbing the attention of the people of tribal communities.This can be done by various groups of women going in that particular areas and by giving information about this social evil and making proper reports about the statistics that how many women have been suffering from this social evil so that it is easier to give rehabilitation and councilling .
Women branded as witch has to go through host of atrocities .This heinous behavior towards them not only affect them physically but leave a major impact on their mental health . After branded as witches their social lives are completely destroyed as they are forced to live a life in isolation . They are forced to leave their houses and people around them humiliate by calling them as Daayan , Chudail and other slurs which one would never want to listen .
There is a different element related to it which shows that some women see black magic as a last resort . They look at witch craft as self defence . It is hard to believe when we listen to it but yes it is the truth. The women of this mindset are socially backward and financially poor and are exploited by upper caste and the people living nearby, so they use witch craft as a weapon to save themselves from exploitation.
Here the need for rehabilitation centers , counselors arises . 'Civil society and government should work together at grassroot level in order to change the mindset of the people said by Indira Jai Singh , a senior lawyer at supreme court of India. This can happen through information, education and communication. Media is also a powerful tool. They can build community based organizations for prevention of "witch hunting" and for compensation, rehabilitation and re-integration of the victim and/or families of the victim.
Therefore , awareness about this issue is as necessary as criminalizing it as a separate offence. The author believes that society can only develop when such social evil are destroyed from the core and a country as a whole can only develop when the women of that country are dignified and treated equally.
Indian penal code, 1860
AIR 2006 (3) JCR 222 Jhr
Efforts of government and non governmental agencies [available from :.https://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/152219/3/12%20chapter%205.pdf ]
BY - ASHNA GAUR
DELHI MTROPOLITIAN EDUCATION , GGSIPU