To eradicate persecution of women in name of ‘Daayan’, the Odisha government has established a memorial dedicated to victims of witch-hunting. The memorial has a statute of a woman at the centre surrounded by plaques with the names of 55 women killed over the suspicions of being witches. In today’s modern and techno-age, superstitions still prevail in India and are quite widespread.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), more than 2,500 Indians have been chased, tortured and killed in witch-hunting between 2000 and 2016. However, the number is much larger than said because most states in India don not list witchcraft as a motive of murder. Women are primarily targeted and exploited because of the caste system and patriarchal cultures. By branding women a ‘Daayan’ (Witch), men capitalize on deeply rooted superstitions and systems built on misogyny and patriarchy to blame the females. Sociologists say “the accusations of sorcery are used to oust women from valuable land that men covet, in a region where flawed development plans have produced agricultural failures.” Women rights campaigners have voiced that illiteracy, superstition and a rigid caste hierarchy encourages this outrageous practice. Women have been beaten, sexually assaulted, stripped naked and paraded or thrown into wells after being ‘branded’ witches and blamed for everything from poor monsoon rains to illness or a sudden day.
The Scientific American highlights a Gujarat incident where two women suffered for five years (2012 – 2017), when a gang of men from the village beat them inhumanely with thick iron pipes. To this day, they continue to live with the men who labeled them ‘Daayan’. It all started when the women voiced against their male relatives for defecating in the vegetable farm. This infuriated the men and they beat the women and drove them out of their home for 10 days. The situation worsened when two men in their household developed renal failure and cancer and subsequently died. The two women were accused of ‘eating their souls and causing the premature deaths’. The male relatives then tried grab the land of the victims.
Experts say that India represents a modern-day paradox. The Centre for Inquiry (CFI) states that “on the one hand, it is the largest democracy in the world and a rapidly growing economy. On the other, most of the population remains poor, and Indians, both educated and not, often turn to superstition to cure illness, find love and rationalize bad events.”
However, women being labelled as witches in India are nothing new. Women were accused of the same since time immemorial.