Blaming women for the acts of violence committed against them is not a new idea to societies that are bound by patriarchy. Taking it further, we have witch–hunting — blaming women for everything that happens in society, even if it is a natural occurrence. If you thought it was a thing of the past, think again — in India, there is a death for witchcraft reported every third day, with the majority of the victims being women.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 2,097 people were murdered from 2000 to 2012 in the name of witch-hunting. That brings us to the question of how a woman is branded a witch. If someone even remotely related to a woman falls sick, that is reason enough to brand one a witch. Women are also branded witches for reasons like crop failure or injecting wells with insects. According to The Ladies Finger,
two women were pushed into a well and buried alive in Assam because they were believed to have “used black magic to infest with insects the well from which we drink water.”
Though Jharkhand is leading in the number of cases reported for witch-hunting, 11 other states including Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Assam and Bihar still report cases as well.
"They want to kill me. They believe I'm a sorcerer. In prayers, I ask my goddess every morning, 'am I really?''', Bahura Bai, one of the few to have survived witch-hunting, told Al Jazeera.
Women are also branded witches malevolently for acquiring their property or as an act of revenge. Widows or single women become more vulnerable to acts of stigmatisation in such instances.
Even though the government tries to take steps to prevent such acts of violence, there isn’t much it can do when the majority in a village turn out to be co-conspirators. That is where women like Birubala Rabha (63), on whom Yourstory had done a story some time ago, come into the picture. She has been fighting the evil practice of witch-hunting for more than 20 years now, since her mentally challenged son was branded a witch. Though she was thrown out of her village for trying to prevent murders in the name of witch-hunting, she has saved more than 40 from being killed through her relentless efforts. And she gives hope for a positive change.