Patriarchy when combined with Superstition gives birth to a social evil called ‘Daayan Pratha’ or ‘Witch Hunt’. It is a practice where rural women are mercilessly killed by the superstitious accusations of being a Daayan. Women are targeted and branded as ‘Witches’ for every calamity that befalls the village; be it death or drought or maybe even disease. This practice targets the women and exploits India’s caste system and culture of patriarchy. Though laws exist in States that witness a maximum number of witch-hunt crimes in our country, the reason for the perpetuation of the practice is its ineffective implementation. Underreporting of a large number of cases, ineffective legal investigation, social pressure, inaccessible laws, unawareness, futile rehabilitation process and lack of severe punishments add to the existing problem making it severe. Law can never eradicate such a practice solely because it is so deep rooted. Education and massive awareness drives are the need of the hour. Change can come only when we are willing to come. People need to unlearn such evil practices and be open to accepting the concept of equality.
This paper deals with few blood-thirsty real-life incidents of Witch Hunt in our country and the status of this evil practice abroad. It also discusses the legislation drafted and executed by a few of the many states of India. It suggests a multi-layered and integrative approach to uproot this evil. The paper ends with the conclusion which talks about the need of smashing patriarchy for a better future for our coming generation.
Evaluating the evaluation of Patriarchy
In India, being born and growing up as a boy can mean many things, one of them is, privilege. A hierarchy that continuously puts men on top is male privilege. Special privileges and status are granted to the male section of society. The patriarchal society is defined by male supremacy, where males dominate almost everything everywhere including moral authority, political leadership, control of the property, social privilege, etc.
Men get praise for their ordinary parental duties and are highly acknowledged and adored for being a single father whereas mothers are simply expected to do so as a part of their duty and single mothers in our society are highly criticized. Men are forever believed difficult to be taken advantage of whereas women are meant to be taken advantage of. Men are most welcome to dominate any conversation without being judged but women are termed ‘too talkative’ and ‘attention seekers’ while expressing their opinion. Men are not at all expected to change their name after marriage. Men are less likely to be the target of street harassment and can turn down dates easily without being attacked physically, verbally or maybe even murdered. Men are less likely to be the victim of domestic violence and aren’t afraid of being judged on the basis of clothes or lifestyle. Gray hair, Weight gain, wrinkles and body hair are natural for men but a matter of disgust for women. Men get ‘finer with age’ whereas women are considered to be less desirable as they grow old. These are some of the many examples of us being a part of patriarchal society and portray how it is maintained every single day in our day to day life.
SUPERSTITION – Nothing is incredible enough not to be believed
Once I happened to cross paths with a woman who appeared to be sad and upset about something. On asking she told me about the expensive kitchen knife she has received as a present at her house warming party which makes her believe that some disaster is sure to follow. She believed that knife signifies cutting her life short or cutting off her good luck. This lady was so convinced with the superstitions that all she can think of was the person who gifted her knife is her secret enemy.
As Jose Bergamin says,
‘A place which leaves no place for doubt is not a belief but superstition.’
So basically there are two types of superstitious people. One, who hates being termed as ‘Superstitious’ but still wear their so-called lucky shirt to interview, believes in touchwood and tries to get their lucky number for the number plate of their car. The other ones are those who believe nothing but magic. The world is full of magic for them. They can’t think of any incident as simple physical cause or random coincidence but only in terms of magic. To them, the best investment of money is to keep supernatural spirits on their side or at least not against them. Their trust relies on good luck charm, Ouija board, ghost, astronomy, palm reading and whatnot.
Superstition creates a world of mystery where nobody knows the truth but a great number of people seem to believe it. It is the religion of the feeble mind and a major roadblock in the way of rational thinking.
SUPERSTITION AND PATRIARCHY GIVING BIRTH TO THIRD EVIL – DAAYAN PRATHA
When we combine these two horrible terms i.e. Patriarchy and Superstition, Witch Hunt or Daayan Pratha take birth. Dayan or Dakan Pratha is a practice where rural women are mercilessly killed by a superstitious accusations of being a Daayan or killing infants with the help of their tantric powers. As per the book, Witchcraft: A study in Indian occultism, published by RN Saletore in 1981, witchcraft or “demonology” was a practice sanctioned by Hindu scriptures in the ancient age. Witchcraft was also described as a profession in the Rig Veda, an ancient Hindu scripture, and was taught at ancient Indian universities.
According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, More than 2,500 Indians have been chased, tortured and killed in such hunts between 2000 and 2016. As per Activist and Journalist and Researchers, the number is higher than the mentioned number by Crime Records Bureau but most states either hide the number or don’t list witchcraft as a motive of the murder. This practice targets the women and exploits India’s caste system and culture of patriarchy. Men who brand women as Dayan or witch capitalize on deeply rooted superstitions which are built on misogyny and patriarchy to lay blame on females. As per the Sociologist who studies Violence in India, the accusations of sorcery is used to oust women from valuable land that men covet, in a region where flawed development plans have produced agricultural failures.
Taking you back to Gujarat in the year 2014 where the trio of women named Madhuben, Sushilaben and Kamlaben were mercilessly beaten with iron pipes and wooden sticks at the centre of the village because two young men had died in the village and their death was blamed on these women and they were accused of feasting on the souls of young men, hence being termed as ‘Daayan’.
Or let’s travel back to Assam in the year 2015 where Laila Orang bid goodbye to his mother while leaving for work. Later at noon, when he returned from work, he found the severely injured head of his mother lying away from her body near the river. It was later found that localities believed her mother to be a witch so they dragged, beat, stripped and beheaded his mother.
In the same year at Kanjia in Jharkhand, the mother in law of Usha Oaron’s along with three other women were stripped naked and made to parade to the village assembly point where they were beaten to death because they were believed to have caused the death of a 17-year old boy from cancer by performing black magic on him and were termed as ‘witches’.
Talking about an elderly woman in Nalanda District of Bihar where her face was covered with black paint, her hair was chopped and was beaten with sticks only because she was accused of being a witch by the fellow villagers.
Women are targeted and branded as ‘Witches’ for every calamity that befalls the village; be it death or drought or maybe even disease. Witch Doctors, also known as Ojhas or Bej (mostly men) undoes the supposedly evil influences of a witch. One word from an Ojha or Bej is enough for the villagers to gather as a mob and seek blood-thirsty violence and hunt a “witch”, usually a non-dominant caste woman and bring her to “justice”.
As per research conducted by Partners for Law Development patriarchy and superstitions are not the only reason behind this evil practice. Financial disputes, and other personal and social conflicts. More often than not, these conflicts arise out of jealousy or tension between the victim and their relatives, friends or acquaintances. Anyone who would like to settle a land or financial dispute or can settle on witch-hunting as a “solution”, especially if the victim is from a non-dominant caste. As one victim’s husband states, jealousy can be an important factor behind these lynchings.
Quoting an adolescent daughter of the victim of Witch Hunting, ‘I still see my mother’s murderers roaming freely in front of me. I feel scared while going to school.
There is no guarantee that the girl won’t have to suffer the same fate as her mother. She not only lost her mother but developed a constant fear for life. If the perpetrators can escape from the hands of the law once, will the second time be any different?
A law criminalizing witch-hunting was passed in the 1800’s, but the major population in India resisted it. They believed that this law would prevent them from punishing wrong-doers.
Witch Hunting or Daayan Pratha is practiced all over the world but majorly spread across over 12 states in our country but only 7 states so far have formed laws criminalizing the practice, namely Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Assam. Gujarat is not one among these states and women there are using their resources to fight back.
“We protect each other. It’s how we find strength,” one of them says. The women in Gujarat are learning the law and demanding a desk in the local police stations so they can advocate for women who walk in to report violence and be the voice for the voiceless.
In 1999, Bihar introduced the Prevention of Witch (Daain) Practices Act, which was adopted by Jharkhand as the Prevention of Witch-hunting (Dayan Pratha) Act.
The Jharkhand Anti-Witchcraft Act 2001 makes Witch hunt cognizable and non-bailable. A short prison term of 3 to 6 months along with a penalty of just Rs 1000 to Rs 2000 is hardly enough to mitigate such a deep-rooted evil that subjugates women for personal interests. Section 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the concerned Act talks about the punishment which will be granted if any-one identifies someone as a witch, tries to cure the witch and any damages caused to them. Whereas Section 7 states the procedure for trial.
In contrast, the Chhattisgarh Witchcraft Atrocities (Prevention) Act, 2005 has stricter punishments but cases usually remain pending in the court or aren’t reported in the first case, and the life of victims after their perpetrators are punished remains tough and full of social disgust, without compensation.
Maharashtra had announced its progressive Anti-Superstition and Black Magic Act in 2013. In 2015, The Rajasthan Prevention of Witch-Hunting Act imposed incarceration up to 7 years, extending up to life term, with a fine not less than Rs 1 lakh, or both.
The Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention and Protection) Act, 2015, makes the practice cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable, followed by imprisonment of 7 years and a fine up to Rs. 5 lakhs for terming a woman as ‘Witch’.
Though laws exist in States that witness a maximum number of witch-hunt crimes in our country, the reason for the perpetuation of the practice is its ineffective implementation. Underreporting of a large number of cases, ineffective legal investigation, social pressure, inaccessible laws, unawareness, futile rehabilitation process and lack of severe punishments add to the existing problem making it severe.
In the past few years, rights groups have campaigned demanding a nationwide law to address these crimes. They argue for including offences like sexual violence, defamation, public humiliation etc to witchcraft laws, which place a premium on women’s sexuality and also target members of lower castes and other minority communities.
The current approach is very piecemeal, where we can only talk about the legal aspect of the problem. The laws are inadequate in covering the entire range of crimes associated with witch hunting, which arises the need for stricter and specified laws and even stricter implementation.
ARE WE READY TO UNLEARN
It is really sad and unfortunate to see that the practices like ‘Daayan Pratha’ or ‘Witch Hunt’ are still taking place, even in the 21st Century. It is a shame on our so called civilization and modernization.
A woman from Rajasthan explained Witch to the team of Logical Indian as “She is a devil in human form who survives on human blood and flesh. She has mastered jaadu-tona (black magic) and can burn you by just looking into your eyes.”
Law can never eradicate such a practice solely because it is so deep-rooted. Education and massive awareness drives are the need of the hour. Change can come only when we are willing to come. People need to unlearn such evil practices and be open to accepting the concept of equality.
Catholic Church encouraged the practice of witch hunts in Europe from the15th to 18th century.
The classical period of witch-hunts in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America took place from about 1450 to 1750, spanning the upheavals of the Reformation and the Thirty Years’ War, resulting in an estimated 35,000 to 100,000 executions, with the most recent estimate at 40,000. The last execution of this practice where people were convicted as witches in Europe took place in the 18th century. In other regions, like Africa and Asia, contemporary witch-hunts have been reported from Sub-Saharan Africa and Papua New Guinea and official legislation against witchcraft is still found in Saudi Arabia and Cameroon today.
A Historian Wolfgang Behringer told DW that during these three centuries, between 50,000 and 60,000 people are assumed to have been killed for so-called crimes of witchcraft — a tally that is close to being twice the population of some major German cities at the time.
But he says that in the 20th century alone, more people accused of witchcraft were brutally murdered than during the three centuries when witch hunts were practiced in Europe: “Between 1960 and 2000, about 40,000 people alleged of practicing witchcraft were murdered in Tanzania alone. While there are no laws against witchcraft as such in Tanzanian law, village tribunals often decide that certain individuals should be killed.
In Tanzania, the victims of these witch hunts are often people with albinism; some people believe that the body parts of these individuals can be used to extract potions against all sorts of ailments.
Meanwhile, in Ghana, where nonagenarian Akua Denteh was bludgeoned to death last month, certain communities blame the birth of children with disabilities on witchcraft
Between 1542 and 1735, in England and Scotland, a series of Witchcraft Acts enshrined into law the punishment (often with death, sometimes with incarceration) of individuals practising witchcraft and magic. The last execution of a witch in the Dutch Republic was probably in 1613. In Denmark, this took place in 1693 with the execution of Anna Palles and in Norway the last witch execution was of Johanne Nilsdatter in 1695. Witch-hunt is still being practiced in societies where belief in magic is prevalent. In most cases, these are instances of lynching and burning. Some are even made to eat human feces and drink water from the shoe. Some women become the victim of sexual assault and some are thrown out of the community. Incidents are reported with some regularity from much of Sub-Saharan Africa, from Saudi Arabia and from Papua New Guinea.
Witch-hunt in Nepal is also very common and targets especially low-caste women. The main causes of this brutal practice include widespread belief in superstition, lack of education, lack of public awareness, illiteracy, caste system, male domination, and economic dependency of women on men.
It requires a multi-layered and integrative approach to uproot this evil.
Awareness is the first and foremost step that needs to be taken. People from rural areas are to be made aware and educated. Women must be taught about their rights so that they can fight back and find their strength and protect each other.
Second, a strict legislative framework and its proper execution is required to tackle the problem so that those involved in killing people by branding them as witches will think twice before committing the crime.
Third, the victims must be given access to medical intervention; and finally, they must have access to rehabilitation in their communities and support to process their trauma. They require the feeling of warmth and assurance that they aren’t alone to boost their morale and to keep their desire to live, alive.
In this era where we are heading towards a greater modern and civilized society and building a progressive attitude of communities, such superstitious practice not only point to the lack of education and awareness among the citizens of our country but also brings us back to where we have started from. Reformative education is the building block for the progress of any society. Villagers visit witch-doctors (Ojha and Bej) because of ignorance and lack of proper health care and mental health is still a matter of ignorance in our country. Support in this area is essentially required if a change is desired. Not only this, the gap between legislation and enforcement needs to be bridged manifold too.
‘Daayan Pratha’ or ‘Witch Hunt’ is the ugliest form of superstition which has been continuing for thousands of years now. We cannot eliminate this practice only by police method or through the court of law because Witch hunting has no reason at all but is shrouded with the darkness of superstition, which has to be overcome by society itself.
You and I together constitute the society so we have the power to mould it in whichever way we want.
Quoting an Iranian Lawyer, Shirin Ibadi
‘Women are the victims of this patriarchal culture, but they are also its carrier. Let us keep in mind that every oppressive man was raised in the confines of his mother’s home.
The world is ready to influence and shape the young boys into the kind of men they will be one day. The male dominant, patriarchal society is waiting with open arms to make them a part of the family but their mothers must try their best to raise them to smash patriarchy, which is the only way of promising a better world for their daughters.
It is high time now. This needs to be stopped. We are the children of the same god, made of the same muscle and blood. Being born as an Indian citizen gives us the right to live….live with dignity and respect which is still a dream for many women out there. Government, Law and Police will do their job but let’s unite and provide women the life of love, dignity and respect which they are dreaming of, forever.
IFIM LAW SCHOOL