In India, thousands of women have been tortured and killed since 2002:
In places where superstition and vigilantism overlap and small rumors can turn deadly, nearly 2,100 people accused of witchcraft have been killed between 2000 and 2012, according to crime records gathered by the Indian newspaper Mint. Others placed the number at 2,500; others higher still. “Like the proverbial tip of a very deep iceberg, available data hides much of the reality of a problem that is deeply ingrained in society,” according to New Delhi-based Partners for Law in Development. “It is only the most gruesome cases that are reported — most cases of witch-hunting go unreported and unrecorded.”
Many of the killings go unreported. Some women are forced to endure eating excrement or are gang raped before they are put to death. Of course, most (if not all) of the accused women are from poor, powerless families:
“Witch-hunting is essentially a legacy of violence against women in our society,” wrote Rakesh Singh of the Indian Social Institute. “For almost invariably, it is [low caste] women, who are branded as witches. By punishing those who are seen as vile and wild, oppressors perhaps want to send a not-so-subtle message to women: docility and domesticity get rewarded; anything else gets punished.”
The article claims that while superstition is part of it, the other part is that sometimes women are accused of witchcraft so that others can settle a score or grab their land and possessions.
However, while something like this could certainly happen without superstition, their barbaric beliefs (superstition, caste system and religion) offer people an easy excuse to do what they want with these poor women.
Even the way they supposedly ‘suss out the witch’ uses superstitious nonsense:
According to Mint, an Indian publication which has written extensively on the subject, a witch is identified through various methods. The person who suspects witchcraft will often consult a witch doctor called an “ojha.” The witch doctor, who uses medicinal herbs, in part learned their skills to counter the darker powers of the witches, called “daayan.”
The ojha then goes about the business of sussing out the witch. This involves incantations, Mint reports, and possibly the branches of a sal tree. The ojha writes the names of all those suspected of witchraft onto the branches of the tree, and the name that’s on the branch that withers is condemned as a witch. Other times, rice is wrapped in cloth emblazoned with names. Then the rice is placed inside a nest of white ants. Whichever bag the ants eat out identifies the witch. Another method: potions. One Indian shaman in 2011forced 30 women to drink a potion to prove they weren’t witches. The concoction was made out of a poisonous herb, all women fell ill, and the shaman was arrested.
After a witch is chosen, they are either forced to do unspeakable things or tortured. “In many reported cases recently, women who are branded as witches were made to walk naked through the village, were gang-raped, had their breasts cut off, teeth broken or heads tonsured, apart from being ostracized from their village,” reported Live Mint. They “were forced to swallow urine and human feces, to eat human flesh, or drink the blood of a chicken.”
How ridiculous. In other words, a good witch must be used to ‘suss out’ the bad witch.
Come on, people!
This is why beliefs matter. This is why criticism and conversation about religion must be allowed. Without it, we end up with horrendous human rights abuses like this one. It’s another example of religion and superstitious belief devaluing human life, particularly that of low-income women.
And let’s not forget how religion is used to justify the caste system. Imagine a system where you are born without hope. If you’re born poor, you will always be poor. It’s a soul crushing system.
Many of the ‘witch’ cases are not reported. I wonder how many more women and families have been beaten, tortured, raped and oppressed because of superstition, greed and poverty. We need to do more when it comes to reporting on these stories.