In many areas of India, witch hunting is not just a dark practice from the past, but an ongoing problem.
As Friday writer Matteo Fagotto wrote in a story titled, "The Witch Hunts of India," villagers in rural areas frequently target women in their societies and accuse them of witchcraft. According to Michigan State sociology professor Soma Chaudhuri, whom Fagotto interviewed for his article, the reasons behind the witch hunts often stem from competition for land.
“In Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Odisha and in Purulia in West Bengal, the struggle for tribal land is intense within the community,” Chaudhuri said. "These are mineral-rich lands so mining companies are encroaching these places, leading to dearth of land. Adivasi [tribal] women who inherit land from their fathers or husbands are often targeted. Envious family members start the accusations against the women to discredit them, leading to loss of inheritance.”
One of these fatal witch hunts occurred in Naya Raipur, India, on Wednesday. The victim was 52-year-old Dulari Bai. Bai’s brother-in-law, Mehattar, and his family had accused Bai of being a witch for years.
Recently, Mehattar’s daughter-in-law fell ill. While sick, the woman murmured Bai’s name. Mehattar and his family took this to mean Bai was casting spells on the sick family member.
On Wednesday, Mehattar and four family members entered Bai’s house and killed her. Police were called to the scene, and all four people were arrested.
Dr. Dinesh Mishra, who works to reduce superstition and black magic beliefs in the country, spoke to the Times of India about Bai's murder and others like it.
"[The] psychology behind such [an] extreme step is usually to end the cause, as just a suspicion on someone would not serve the purpose and [the] villagers' problem would remain intact,” Mishra said. “Hence, without giving second thoughts, they either humiliate, assault or kill women under suspicion ... There's an urgent need to make people aware about how innocents are being killed over groundless issues.”