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02
Mar

witchcraft amongst tribal peopleIt is estimated over the last 15 years 2,500 women have been killed in India because they were said to be witches, Cornell University International Law Journal claims Witch hunting is more common among the primitive societies like the tribal population, sometimes even among the rural communities of residential or settled population.

 

The reasons appear to be multiple, these communities have poor access to education, health services, poverty and long standing belief in witchcraft. When an individual or a child falls sick, it is more likely the blame falls not on an infection or a disease but upon an alleged witch. That witch is almost always a woman. That particular woman is either from the same household or in the village.

 

If there is a death or an individual falls sick, if the women is a new arrival into that particular family, almost always that particular woman is blamed and taken for a witch.

 

The Times of India reports under its ''The India uncut Blog''

A group of villagers took the woman to a deserted location and forced her to pick a silver coin from a vessel containing boiling oil. The woman suffered severe burns on both her hands and she fell unconscious. However this did not deter the villagers and they thrashed her badly with hot iron rods to which she received Head injuries.


The villagers dumped her outside her house. Her family members including her husband did not allow her inside....

Why was she suspected of being a witch? Two members of her family have died in the space of a month. That is why. Once accused , she has no chance of proving herself innocent. Women who are labelled as witches are asked to pick a silver coin from a vessel containing boiling oil and if she picks the coin without any burns she is innocent!!

There are many other cases where the women are blamed as witches and dragged from their homes and sometimes even tried to hang them outside their villages. All this with no help from her own household folk.

Paganism has a part to play and sometimes ancient Hindu rituals and beliefs are interpreted wrongly in the practice of witchcraft.

Sometimes poor, low caste women, widows, infertile women, physically malformed faces due to a syndrome or women with malformed limbs are easy targets and taken as witches. Once accused, she has no chance to prove herself innocent and becomes an exile , driven into another village. Almost always she is for ever branded as a witch for the rest of her life.

If a woman rejects a sexual advances of a male of some standing in the village, she becomes an easy victim to be labelled as a witch. If the victimised woman goes to Police, they are sympathetic to both parties and encourage the parties to settle among themselves . That would be a great disaster for the woman because she is not only a witch but has complained to police as well, bringing disgrace to the individual and to the village.

India's anti witchcraft Laws exists but how well they are implemented varies from State to State, village to village. Witchcraft cases if they make it to court, they are kept in the lower court systems without options for any higher court appeal. So this brings us back to these three tribal villages (T.H.I.S,) Chinacheepuruvalsa, Pedacheepuruvalsa, and Panukuvalsa. I believe witchcraft is being practiced because I have actually seen and met the witch doctor who practices witchcraft.

About three years ago I was asked to go and see a gentleman in the village who has severe Jaundice and was very ill. I saw him and advised admission into the hospital for further treatment. He refused and later called the witch doctor.

I have seen a large numbers of children during the school medicals with burn marks on the abdomen and faces, to cure illness and to get rid of evil spirits. These burn marks are made by the village witch doctor. When I take a walk in the villages to bring people from their homes to the clinic, I see a cocktail of red chilli, tamarind, hair mixed in liquid splashed in front of the house, indicating the evil spirit is taken out of the house. If anyone steps on that evil mixture, the evil spirit would enter into that person.

Now, how to tackle this problem ?

We need to be aware that witchcraft and similar practices are deep routed in the heart and mind of Indian culture. As we are changing and the out-look of Indian modern Society has indeed changed, we need to be aware that we can not eradicate it with one swipe or bring down with heavy hand of the Law. We can not offer to watch these children having these burns time and again This is not acceptable in out modern society.

 

In a very simplistic way:

1) Health Education to the adults ,

2) working with the teachers making Health Education part of school curriculum and

3) offering free medical services.

4) A Christian understanding, love and support both to the perpetrators and the victim.

may make a small difference in this corner of India at Salur.

 

If any body has any views on tackling this problem, other than the views I expressed I would very much like to hear.

 

Dr. Sunder Rao Bethapudy

Norwich, UK

 

 

 

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