In the previous article we saw the reasons as to why women are made targets for witch hunting practices. Now, let us try to understand why the situation has not changed since 70 years of being a democracy.
One of the biggest problems is the fact that people think that their actions are justified by the social norms they follow or the moral code they adhere to. There have been cases where after persecuting the woman, the criminals have themselves surrendered at the police station. There should be no doubt that the practice of witch-hunting and subsequent killing are a gross violation of basic human rights. Cultural beliefs and practices resulting thereof should not violate human rights, and if they do, then human rights need to considered superior to the cultural practices. Thus the cultural practices have to change.
Secondly, there is a lack of discussion on the subject. As we remember the other struggles of Adivasi people, we must recognize that witch-hunting is a pressing issue and not treat it as business in general. Additionally, lack of discussion can also be seen as how the victims themselves do not report the cases in fear of additional damage to other family members and due to lack of confidence in the judicial system. Due to lack of discussion, there is also a lack of an organized movement against the practice.
Now, coming to the judicial system, although witch hunting is practised across India, only seven states have laws criminalising the practice and no central law exists. The local law in place seems too lenient, for example the punishment for identifying a woman as a witch is an imprisonment for up to three months and/or a fine of Rs.1,000. Similarly, causing harm to anyone in the name of witchcraft can lead to imprisonment for up to six months and/or a fine of Rs.2,000, etc (Singh, 2016)
The problem also lies in the enforcement of these laws. For instance, in 15 percent of the cases registered in Assam since 2008, the investigation has met with a dead end, with the police claiming that no accused could be identified (Domínguez, 2015). A large number of perpetrators are still let out on bail, and there is no system in place to re-arrest them.
The enforcement many times becomes difficult because of lack of evidence. Witch hunting is a crime which has been manifested socially and hence either due to fear or due to acceptance or ignorance people remain silent.This becomes a big hurdle for collecting the evidence. And due to the lack of proper evidence, many times justice is not achieved. Apart from this, it has been seen that the person or group of people who commit witch hunting mostly belong to the influential strata of the society and in fear and threat of these people no one speaks against them. Delay in reporting the incident becomes another reason behind lack of evidence. This happens partly because of geographical reasons and partly because of societal pressure. Thus, very few incidents get reported and they also are reported after a long gap, making the witness’ testimony unreliable.
So, how do we handle these problems?
The police need to be held accountable for such practices and a strict enforcement of the existing law needs to be ensured. At the same time evaluation of the law in place needs to be done. Research needs to be done to find if stricter laws or extra provisions can be added to improve the current situation.
This needs to be accompanied by a change in the social norms. How these norms can be changed is a difficult matter to analyse (from top to bottom or from micro to macro) but women’s development, whether through their empowerment or reducing their dependence on men and empowering them through ensured justice would certainly create change. To create a social change the youth needs to be involved, awareness camps should be held and the subject of witch-hunting needs to be taught in schools and other organizations. Compensation, rehabilitation and re-integration of the victim and families of the victim can also be a great way to change the mindsets of people.
One important factor to be noted is the fact that this is a pressing social issue and needs to be dealt with immediately. Dealing with the issue will require both macro and micro efforts which would require the government and the civil society to work together so that not only better policies help empower the women but a change in the mindset is brought at the grassroots level. A fair understanding of what is required to make a change in the long followed cultural practices can only be acquired by the balance between proper research and enforcement. At the same time, the perpetrators need to be made aware that they will not be able to run from the consequences of the crimes committed.
Domínguez, G. (2015, 07 23). Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 11 15, 2017, from http://www.dw.com: http://www.dw.com/en/why-india-struggles-to-tackle-witch-hunting/a-18603450
Singh, S. S. (2016, 12 24). The-‘witches’-of-Jharkhand. The Hindu.
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