Chutni Mahato lived to tell her tale—branded a witch in her in-laws’ village in Jharkhand’s Seraikela-Kharsawan district, stripped and paraded naked and forced to drink urine. Once a woman is branded a witch—a superstition rife in many states in India—her chance of survival is very low; lynching of women over suspicion of witchcraft is widely prevalent in many parts. But Mahato managed to escape. That was 1995. She is now an activist battling such social evils. In 2019, Mahato won the Padma Shri—India’s fourth-highest civilian honour—for helping nearly 150 women, all victims of witch-hunting and persecution.
A few years before she was honoured, a film purportedly inspired by her life was released. But Kaala Sach: The Black Truth turned out to be the typical Bollywood horror fare—instead of depicting her empowerment, the film is full of scenes of sexual violence, its dialogues replete with expletives and innuendos. Mahato does not know about the film but says they can’t do justice to the struggle faced by women branded witches and hunted down by an unforgiving society. “They (films) show witches with bulging eyes, with feet turned backward and matted hair. She is in search of men to seduce and children whose blood she can drink,” Mahato tells Outlook over the phone. “In real life, though, ‘witches’ are not demons but women just like you and me,” she adds.