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Witch Hunting in India: The most atrocious form of violence against women

Shubhangi Singh Rajora, [3rd year, BA LLB, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda]


In India, since time immemorial, several evil practices have been followed, including the dowry system, sati pratha etc. Although we have progressed as a nation over the years, the practice of witch hunting is still prevalent in many parts of our country owing to superstitious beliefs of people. One of the cruelest form of gender-based violence in India is the practice of Witch Hunting. This practice has lead to inhumane torture and murder of several 'so-called witches' almost throughout India.

What is Witch hunting?

An attempt to find and punish people whose opinions are unpopular and who are said to be a danger to society.[1]

This barbaric practice of Witch Hunting which women in many parts of India still suffers, occurs when the women alleged of causing damaging influences are often branded as Witches by ‘Ojhas’ popularly known as (tantriks/witch doctors) or by community people and then the women accused are rapped, bashed , flogged, banished, paraded naked through the village, forced to eat human excrement, balded etc. [2]

Why are women being accused?

Women are being accused of practising witchcraft for many reasons:

  • One reason might be that it gives people a sense of control and ability to blame when there are unfortunate events where they have no power.

  • Women who holds own land and are alone are at risk of randomly being accused.

  • Marital status, woman’s age, the death of a child, lousy weather, a disease outbreak etc, are some reasons why women might be accused of practising witchcraft. [3]

Laws pertaining to witch hunt

Before Indepenence, the british tried to ban this practice in the then states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Chhotanagpur in the 1840s-1850. But a few administrative steps took by the Britishers, resulted contrary to their intentions as their was rise in witch hunt cases.

After Independence, there were no special laws pertaining to to witch hunting practices, the reason cited for this is that, the Indian Penal Code provides for the punishment of such offences committed in the process of witch hunting.[4]

  • The Indian Penal Code provides punishment of upto One year in prison and/ or Fine upto Rs. 1,000 for “Voluntarily causing Hurt”.[5]

  • The Indian Penal Code criminalizes murder and provides a penalty of death or life imprisonment as well as fine.[6]

  • Sec 354 imposes a penalty of upto Two years in prison for “Whoever assaults or uses criminal force to any women intending to outrage or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby outrage her modesty”.[7]

  • Sec 382 provides a Ten year sentence for “Whoever commits theft, having made preparation for causing death, or hurt, or restrain in order to the committing of theft or in order to the retaining of property taken by such theft”.[8]

  • Othe penal provisions that are relevant to crimes committed against supposed witches relate to wrongful restraint and confinement[9], causing grivious hurt [10], Kidnapping and Abduction[11], Rape[12], Defamation[13]

  • Due to increasing graph of crimes against women, some states came forward to formulate necessary laws against witch hunting.

  • Bihar was the first state in India to pass a law against Witch Hunting in the year 1999, and was named “Prevention of Witch (Dayan) Practices Act”. A person who identifies a woman as a witch can be imprisoned for 3 months and /or fined Rs. 1,000, and a person who causes a woman physical or mental torture by naming her a witch can be imprisoned for 6 months and /or fined Rs.2,000. The act also prohibits any harm to woman in an attempt to “cure” her; the penalty for such an act is 1 year in prison and /or Fine of Rs. 2,000.[14]

  • After Bihar, Jharkhand also following the Bihar Model established “Anti-Witchcraft Act”in the year 2001, to protect Women from inhuman treatment as well to provide victim a legal recourse to abuse. In this Act, basically Sec 3, 4, 5, and 6 talks about punishment granted if anyone accuse someone of being a witch, tries to cure the witch and also any damages caused to them. Sec 7 of this Act talks about the procedure for trial.[15]

Chhattisgarh government enacted the “Chhattisgarh Tonahi Pratadna Nivaran Act, 2005”, to protect the people from atrocities in the name of Witch-Hunt. The said Act provides an imprisonment for three years term for a person who accuses a woman of being a ‘Tonahi’ or ‘Dayan’ and five years’ imprisonment to anyone who causes physical harm to such woman.

Odisha government enacted the Odisha Prevention of Witch-hunting Act, 2013 which became enforceable in February 2014. This Act among others empowers the government to organise various awareness programmes against superstition and witch-hunting to make the law enforcement agencies as well as the society capable enough to put a pause over the rampant practice.

Rajasthan govt. enacted “The Rajasthan Prevention of Witch Hunting Act, 2015”. The Act provides for adequate measures to tackle the threat of witch hunting and to also prevent the practice of witch-craft in the state. A person who commits witch hunting (a grave crime) shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than One year but may extend to Five years or with Fine which shall not be less than Rs. 50,000 or both.

The state of Assam, in fact, has got the Presidential affirmation to the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention, and Protection) Bill, 2015. The Act, 2015 classifies the practice as a non- bailable, non- cognizable, and non-compoundable offence while laying down up to seven-year imprisonment and a fine up to 5 lakh for identifying any person as a witch.

Why is it still prevalent and what can be done to curb it?

Many states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, etc; have introduced legislations that tries to address crimes which relates to witch hunting and witch craft but still, according to Police Report Data published by the Times Of India, witch hunting in Jharkhand has claimed 123 lives from May 2016 to May 2019, and 134 lives across the country, People were killed for the alleged use of “black magic” in 2016, according to National Crime Records Bureau. [16]

The reason lies behind the practice of witch hunting, still taking lives of innocent women and leaving women in traumatized condition is that the current approach has been very factionary, where the laws talks only about the legal aspect of the problem. The legislations are inadequate in covering the entire range of crimes which are associated with witch hunting.

Many rights groups have campaigned and are still campaigning to curb this evil practice but as it is a deep-rooted cultural practice, we need a holistic approach to educate people from grass roots and make them aware of the current laws and the consequences of their actions.

Witch hunting is such a peril that needs to be eliminated. A multi-dimensional and integrative approach must be followed. A very basic need is to create awareness among local people, secondly; that the victims to this practise must have access to medical intervention and most importantly, as the victims mental health is most affected, so they must also have access to rehabilitation in their communities and support to process their trauma.

The way forward:

Witch hunting is still a menace to women in our country, as they are tortured in the name of many myths and taboos which are ingrained in our society. Our country is developing due to advancement in technology and education but still many people are denied the right to live a decent life. The crimes like witch hunting violates basic fundamental rights guaranteed in our Indian Constitution under Article 14, 15 and 21. The State should establish Organization to deal with such cases and in delicate manner as a matter of priority. Witch hunting is an illogical crime that continues to take place till today. It is high time that people are made aware of it and relevant steps are taken to curb it.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] S-323, Indian Penal Code,1860. [6] S-300 and S-302, Indian Penal Code,1860. [7] S-354, Indian Penal Code,1860. [8] S-382, Indian Penal Code,1860. [9] S-339-348,Indian Penal Code,1860. [10] S-320 and S-322, Indian Penal Code,1860. [11] S-359-369, Indian Penal Code,1860. [12] S-375-376, Indian Penal Code,1860. [13] S-499-501, Indian Penal Code,1860. [14],(daain)%20in%20any%20manner. [15] [16]

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