“She’s a witch! Burn her!”
These words from the enduring Monty Python movie “The Holy Grail” are unfortunately not a joke to many people around the world. Witch hunts are often see as just a thing of the past, a sad chapter in the history of the United States during the Salem Witch Trials. But sadly, all too many people, especially women, face the very real possibility of being killed for their perceived witchcraft.
In the small Indian rural village of Jharkhand in August 2015, five women were dragged out of their beds and brutally beaten to death by villagers that believed the women were witches. The villagers believed that the women were casting spells that damaged the crops for that harvest season. There was no proof, not trial, nothing to truly convict these women. This happened in 2015. Witch hunts are far from a thing of that past.
This kind of thing happens all the time. In India alone 2000 people accused of witchcraft, women especially, have been killed between 2000 and 2012.
Many countries around the world are very unfriendly towards witches in much the same way as the villagers of Jharkhand. Many cases of hardship towards witches comes from average citizens, but in some countries aggression can come straight from the top.
In Saudi Arabia for example, there is an entire government department devoted to hunting witches. In 2007 a woman was executed for witchcraft, and some have died on death row. Accusing people of magic is often a way to silence inconvenient people in Saudi Arabia, and few people are able to speak out against it.
In Nepal, a shaman accused a woman of using black magic to kill a young boy and she was killed.
Let’s let that sentence sink in a for a minute.
A woman was burned alive for practicing black magic by a shaman. She died in agony with no real proof against her.
In most cases, witchcraft trials are just mob rule involving many people with no authority acting out in fear and killing someone without actually looking into what they are doing. Every witchcraft case in India has been run by a mob; the local government is actually trying to help (more on that in a moment).
While many countries hate witches, there are some that seem to have divided opinions on witchcraft. In Uganda in 2012 a man was beheaded and burned for practicing sorcery, but many Ugandan people go to witches to cast spells on them to help protect their jobs or families. You cannot always make generalizations about countries that have had cases of witch hunts… The facts are often more complex than they seem at first.
In India especially, the reasons for witch hunts seem to go deep than just bad crops or illness; there is a gender aspect as well. Almost every victim of witch hunts in India was young, female, outside the socially accepted norms will be punished, but those who are good wife material will be left alone. So maybe the problem is not the perceived witchcraft after all…
When a witch is suspected in India, the people follow a certain procedure. They consult the local witch-doctor (a man) and he finds the witch. The suspected witch is forced to do horrifying things after being discovered in order to “prove” if she is or is not a witch.
Women have been raped, walk naked, forced to eat feces, urine, and human flesh, have their breasts cut off or their teeth broken or get branded.
These unspeakably horrifying violations of human rights and dignity force us to realize that this is just a way to excuse sexism on a level that is shocking and horrific. And the problem isn’t just in India; oh no, most other countries like Tanzania, Uganda, Gambia, and Papua New Guinea all tend to accuse witches that are women that are of too low a class to defend themselves against the mobs.
Law enforcement in most countries tries to put a stop to the mob violence, but often their hands are tied. In India local law enforcement arrests those who are part of the mobs that kill women, but there is no national level law that forbids the killing of witches. In Papua New Guinea, the prime minister is disheartened that the violence against women has been steadily increasing, using witchcraft as an excuse.
Women suspected of witchcraft are truly in danger in some countries, yet this is all too often underreported. It’s time to spread the word! Mob rule cannot decide a person’s life, and this sexism against lower class women cannot be allowed to continue.
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