India, for a long time, has been accused of practising vicious acts such as witch-hunting. Though there have been pseudo-intellectuals and anti-India propaganda forums claiming the dramatic increase in the numbers of witch hunts in India, no one even thought about from where did the malpractice actually originate? Well, one will be surprised to know that it was not India that supported such practices but the west that came up with atrocious thoughts to kill women by branding them as witches.
Witch-hunt has its root at the west
In what can be seen as a shameful reality, Witch hunts are prevalent in the world even in the 21st century. While it is hard to imagine the agony of women who become victims of the practice, it needs to be noted that thousands of women are killed every year around the world under the garb of witch-hunting.
Interestingly, the epicentre of the witch hunts was Europe’s Germany in between the 15th century and 18th century. In medieval and early modern Europe from where witchcraft originated claimed that witches were usually women who were accused of attacking their own community or people. By the mid-1590s, a territory in Germany that had only 2,200 residents, to begin with, had burned 500 people portraying them as witches. According to reports, approximately 40,000 to 60,000 women in Europe were intimidated, banished, attacked or killed for supposedly being witches.
However, several confessions for being involved in the activities that brands these women as witches were forced out of them through torture.
Ironically, there were certain similarities between being the women branded as witches in Europe and other parts of the world such as in Africa, Latin America, or South-East Asia. The suspected women were mostly old-aged and without relatives who could protect them. Apart from old women, women with odd ideologies and features were targeted.
Christianity and Witch hunt
Reportedly, the predominant concept of witchcraft entered the mainstream when belief in witchcraft gained Church approval in the Early Modern Period. This led to multiple deaths, torture and scapegoating and many years of large-scale witch trials and witch hunts. Antagonistic churchmen began branding magicians as “witches”. Folk magicians throughout Europe were often doubted by communities, and that led them to be branded as “witches”.
The developments in Christian doctrine led to a return to belief in witches, changes in the doctrine of Satan and the identification of witchcraft as heresy. The legal codes of Europe punished witchcraft as a crime.
Various forms of witchcraft and divination are cited in the Hebrew Bible, generally in a disapproving tone. Laws prohibiting various forms of witchcraft and divination can be found in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.
Exodus 22:18 – Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
Leviticus 19:26 – Ye shall not … use enchantment, nor observe times.
Leviticus 20:27 – A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.
Deuteronomy 18:10-11 – There shall not be found among you any … that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
Witch-hunting in India
Later, the practice entered India. Assam was famously called ‘The Indian capital of black magic’. The practice is prevalent in rural isolated areas especially among the tribal population and is prominent in Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal.
The victims in most cases are elderly women and widows who had different physical features-hunchback, weird hair, or skin colour. In a few of the cases, even men have been accused of involving in black magic and are made to suffer the consequences. The family and children of a woman who is branded as a witch also have to suffer as they are usually socially boycotted. They are forced to leave the village or in worse cases killed.
In India, 2097 murders were committed under the garb of witch-hunting between 2000-2012. Even though the anti-witch hunting law was passed in 2001 in Jharkhand, 5 women were brutally murdered for being accused of being involved in witchcraft in 2015. Moreover, in Orissa, 99 cases of witch-hunting were reported in 2017, 58 in 2015 and 83 in 2016. In Assam, 114 women and 79 men were branded as witches who were later killed. 202 such cases have been registered between 2001-2017.
Anti-Superstition Laws in India
Though witch-hunting is prevalent in various countries across the world, it is only India that has become an easy target for the propaganda portals. India is keen on progressing in every way possible and people are open to a good change. The Maharashtra State Legislature, in 2013, passed the much-publicized Anti-Superstition Bill and became the first state in the country to pass a bill to combat practices like black magic.
The act aimed at preventing superstitious beliefs from causing financial loss and physical injury. The offender would be accountable to punishment ranging from six months to seven years and a fine between Rs.5,000 and Rs. 50,000.
Rajasthan enacted the Rajasthan Prevention of Witch Hunting Act in 2015 and became the fifth state after Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Odisha to legislate on the matter
In 2018, President Ram Nath Kovind had approved the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2015, converting it to an Act. He had said, “This is a positive step for the society to tackle the witch-hunting menace. If all stakeholders work together, we will be able (to) control the problem, based on superstition, to a large extent.”
Witch-hunting, an unwanted present to India by the west, has corrupted society by various means. It is high time people understand that a person behaving inappropriately or demonstrating signs of psychological disorders or diseases is suffering from bad mental health. What is required for him or her is Psychiatric help and not social ostracization in the name of combating witchcraft.