The idea of ‘witch hunting’ generally conjures up images of a barbaric society where superstition, blind faith and black magic serve to explain tragedies and losses. That such practices are still found in regional pockets evokes a mix of disbelief and outrage. Broadly speaking, witch hunting refers to accusations of possessing supernatural powers made with the intention of harassing and demonising the demographic of largely older and middle-aged women. Even as the practice is associated more with tribal communities, studies show its prevalence across communities within rural and marginalised regions. Although a wide spectrum of acts ranging from verbal abuse to murder may manifest as part of witch hunting, it is cases of egregious violence that tend to make headlines and lead to demands for strict state intervention.
Repeatedly, calls by concerned organisations and individuals have, in fact, culminated in the enactment of a slew of special laws in as many as eight Indian states. Of these, the special laws enacted in the states of Bihar (1999), Jharkhand (2001), Chhattisgarh (2005), Odisha (2013), Rajasthan (2015) and Assam (2018) are specific to witch-hunting alone. Two broader legislations to prevent ‘human sacrifice, black magic and evil practices’, within which witch hunting is also covered, were enacted in Maharashtra (2013) and Karnataka (2017).