End the witch-hunt

Print edition : April 19, 2013

A recent report on the targeting of women as witches highlights the salient aspects of this practice across the country, which is a form of gender-based violence against women. The report, released in January, focuses on the prevalence of this practice in the eastern, north-eastern, northern and western regions and is based on three regional consultations organised by Partners for Law in Development in collaboration with groups in Raipur, Guwahati and Ajmer.

The consultations saw the coming together of about 165 participants, including survivors of such branding. The consultations were supported by the National Commission for Women (NCW).

The report highlights the stories of women marginalised by this practice which is widely prevalent in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Assam. Madhu Mehra, executive director of Partners for Law in Development, said: “It can be seen as an attempt to put in place a woman who defies caste and gender hierarchies and tries to transcend her economic status. For example, the case of a lower caste woman in Bhilwara district who had refused to sell her land to a man of a higher caste had come up. This woman was killed in broad daylight.”

The accounts of survivors point to the state’s abdication of its responsibilities. Said Madhu Mehra: “This cannot be explained away as a cultural issue. This must be framed within the development paradigm that creates conditions under which the practice flourishes.”

The narratives of Jambai and Bhoura from Chhattisgarh are illustrative. Jambai was held responsible for the death of a child; the child had died of jaundice. She was branded a witch, stripped and beaten by the family. The accused were arrested on the basis of a complaint and then released on bail. Bhoura, a dailywage labourer, was branded a dayan by her extended family as they did not like the fact that she was doing well enough to educate her children.

Sagnik Dutta

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