Nimisha Jaiswal points out that witches are not a form of cosplay in India.
Last week, a mob of 200 people in the Indian state of Assam dragged a 65-year-old woman out of her house, stripped her and beheaded her with a machete. They did so because a self-proclaimed “goddess,” who asked them to gather at a local temple, proclaimed that the woman was a witch and would bring bad luck and illness to the village.
People hate old women.
In a country teeming with IT graduates and higher-education institutes, such attacks are sadly and strangely common. Ninety people in Assam, a majority of them of them women, lost their lives in the last six years because they were branded as witches. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 2,097 murders between 2000 and 2012 were committed when the victims were accused of practicing witchcraft.
It’s not clear if that’s in Assam or all of India, but it’s a large number in either case. 2,097 horrific events.
Earlier this year, a woman in the state of Odisha was force-fed human excrement for practicing witchcraft. Last October in Assam, hundreds tied up an athlete in a fishing net and tortured her for being a witch. She had represented Assam in several national meets, and won a gold medal for javelin. In 2011, a mother and daughter in Assam were accused of witchcraft, and raped as punishment.
Non-governmental and social organizations, some founded by victims of witch-hunting themselves, have been working on raising awareness against these beliefs. Brothers, an organization that promotes development in Assam, has worked on in areas where such superstitions are rampant, and has assisted in rescuing and providing medical services to victims. Over the last few years, the organization has also initiated its own awareness campaigns against beliefs in witchcraft.
“People who make these accusations know the victim is not a ‘witch,’ but they do so because of political rivalries, property disputes or personal feuds,” said Dibyajyoti Saikia, the general secretary of Brothers. “The superstitious believe that the witch may have reduced crop production in the village, spread illnesses, or caused a death.”
Because crop failures, diseases, and death never happen unless witches cause them to happen.