Witches Killed in India
Posted by shadmia on August 7, 2007
Two Indian women Radhika Gorai, 65, and Parvati Sabar, 30, were killed, beaten to death by their neighbors. Why? Because they were witches! This happened in Jharkhand’s steel city of Jamshedpur (see map for location). When Betka Sabar, 10, died of tuberculosis, the two women were blamed by the family members of the child. They were taken and beaten with iron rods until they were dead. Parvati’s younger sister Chunnu Sabar told the police that the villagers branded the women witches and killed them as punishment for allegedly practicing black magic. She also claimed that her sister was raped before being killed. The police are looking for five suspects in the killing. Witchcraft allegations are rampant in Jharkhand and other parts of India. In the last 10 years, more than 600 people, mostly women, have been killed in the state after being branded witches.
Ramani Devi,45, was one of the lucky ones. She was accused of witchcraft and was badly tortured, but she survived. Not only is she a survivor but she is now fighting back on behalf of hundreds of vulnerable women. She is leading a program all over Jharkhand through ‘Nukkad Nataks’ (street plays) to raise awareness about the practice and save many others who might meet a fate worse than her own.
‘I simply do not want repetition of what I had to face. It is all because of superstitious beliefs and nothing else,’ says Ramani. ‘I was tortured and forced to eat human excreta just because I was branded a witch by the ojhas (witch doctors).’
There are scores of women who have been branded witch by villagers and tortured. Many were killed, sometimes by beheading or dismembering their limbs. Many like Ramani Devi are forced to drink urine or consume human excreta. Some are ostracized and thrown out of their villages.
‘When these women tell the gory acts and inhuman things they were subjected to, people can feel it. They succeed in pulling a good number of crowds,’ says Vasvi, a social worker engaged with Free Legal Aid Committee (FLAC), an NGO that organizes the street plays and works to spread awareness against witch killings.
Vaisakhi, another survivor, in her 50s, had also been brutally beaten up by a villager, who branded her a witch.
‘It is a blot on our society. We have to face such inhuman torture even in this 21st century. It is a shame that when women have reached space, we are subjected to such horror.’ says Vaisakhi.
In the interiors of states like Bihar and West Bengal, ‘witches’ or ‘dains’ and their children are still hunted and killed. Witch-hunting is one of the least talked-about acts of violence. The murder of individuals and entire families accused of witchcraft is common in other states too, such as Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. From 1991 to 2000, over 522 cases of witch-hunting have been registered in Bihar alone.
The Free Legal Aid Committee (FLAC), based in the new state of Jharkhand, first got involved in the case of Mani Kui of Karandih, Jamshedpur, who had been attacked and badly wounded by a group of people who accused her of witchcraft. The mob also killed her husband and son. FLAC decided to investigate the case, and initiated a widespread discussion of the practice.
FLAC has been successful in highlighting the fact that it is not superstition that is at the root of many of these accusations of witchcraft but socio-economic factors: land-grabbing, property disputes, personal rivalry and resistance to sexual advances. In many cases, a woman who inherits land from her deceased husband is asked to disown the land by her husband’s family or other men. If she resists, they approach the Ojhas (traditional village doctors) and bribe them to brand her a witch. G S Jaiswal of FLAC says, “It is difficult to shake people’s faith in witch-doctors.” Lack of health facilities and legal support add to the problem. This strategy of branding a woman a witch is also used against women who spurn the sexual advances of the powerful men in the community.