Research Sharing Workshop: The Political Economy of Witch Persecution

Research Sharing Workshop: The Political Economy of Witch Persecution

Date & Time: 2nd March, 2017 (09:30 to 17:00 hours)
Venue: India International Centre (conference room 1), New Delhi

Govind Kelkar & Dev Nathan
with
Ajay Kumar, Binita Gaur, Gunshi Soren, Jiban Behra, Punam Toppo, Samar Bosu Mullick, Shantanu Gaikwad, Shivani Satija, Sujatha, Tara Ahluwalia

International and national attention to adverse social norms which perpetuate and reinforce gender inequality and violence against women. The objectives of this research are:

  • To provide an evidence-based analysis of the improvement or lack of it in the persecution of women as witches in the context of the political economy of change in rural and indigenous societies in India.
  • To understand the influence of gendered cultural norms that perpetuate and/or promote social patterns of witch violence.
  • To suggest policy assistance measures to strengthen the state and civil society efforts at ending witch violence.

The research was conducted in 4 states: Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Telangana over a period of two years. The persecution of women as witches has a number of causes and consequences for women’s agency and development in the region:

  • First, in areas where this is widespread, women are restricted in exercising their agency in economic or other spheres for fear of being accused and killed as witches. Women who do economically better through, for instance, wages from migration are forced to hide their savings and not invest their savings locally for fear of eliciting envy of others, resentful and suspicious of newly acquired assets, good harvests or livestock.
  • Second, women are not able to assert their rights to land and other property, as was the case in traditional societies. Our field work points to struggles to capture land and related property by male relatives, social stress and change, reactions to growing inequality and uneven development through the market, and reaffirmation of male domination as causes of witch accusations and persecutions.
  • Third, there are substantial costs related to dislocation of home, associated with fleeing of an accused witch due to fear of injury or assault.
  • Fourth, our field work in Rajasthan revealed an important aspect of witch persecution in the Indian context of caste system. Some of the cases referred to the attempts to deny obligations that used to be part of the jajmani system – the reciprocal, but unequal, obligations between the upper castes / landlords and the various service castes. Women who went to ask for the support (payment in cash or kind) that they were used to receiving were denounced as witches by the upper castes / landlords. The ‘neighbour who asks’ then became the witch.

Ending witch persecution: four factors in European history:

  • Introduction of legal safeguards, including legal assistance in the treatment of alleged witches, with resulting effects on ‘judicial scepticism’, leading to a fundamental doubt whether the witch practice even existed.
  • Change in thinking regarding the witch practice, as a result of expansion of the rational, scientific and secular education that denied the reality of the witch practice and the possibility of its crime.
  • Improved standard of living and the rise in available and effective medicine.
  • change from rurality to urban environments, where communities came to be continuously in a state of flux with less intimate and collective community and about shared group knowledge, providing a pathway for increasingly interrupted traditions and beliefs, thus weakening the grounds for accusation of misfortunes or miseries.

Our research findings suggest the following policy assistance measures for ending witch violence:

  • Change in the social and legal conduct of witch persecution in addressing social norms around beliefs in witchcraft.
  • Effective state laws and regulations with monitored implementation on torture and killing of witches.
  • The demand for persuasive evidence with community support to dismantle the authority and power of Ojhas and Bhagats.
  • Formulate and strengthen gender-responsive policies and laws for the promotion of women’s freedom from violence and their effective participation in decision-making at all levels in political, economic and public life.