By: Yashda Garg
Witch hunt is an archaic and a barbaric practice consumes numerous lives every year. Yet, interestingly, the violence ensued by it is mercilessly silenced and wrapped in the garb of custom. In fact, with the passage of time, the mass approach has only reflected blindness towards the issue. Furthermore, despite the tremendous amount of violence involved in the witch hunt, it lacks a national legal code which could be adequate to deal with the issue in its entirety.
A significant thing to note here is that, barring the recent few contrary cases, the victims of Witch Hunt are generally the women who are mentally unsound, sans a spouse or children, and/or are from lower strata of society. This does not only exhibit the schematic nature of the matter, but also a sense of animosity against a particular section of the society.
Laws pertaining to Witch Hunt
It cannot be denied that the primary reason which aggravates the issue at hand is the scarcity of a national statutory provision. Different states have respective enactments to handle the issue effectively, with Bihar being the first state to give an affirmative nod to the legislation in the form of Prevention of Witch (Dayan) Practices Act, 1999. The step was followed by numerous states such as Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Assam to name a few.
The state of Assam, in fact, has only recently got the Presidential affirmation to the Assam Witch Hunting (Prohibition, Prevention, and Protection) Bill, 2015. The Act, 2015 classifies the practice as a non- bailable, non- cognizable, and non-compoundable offence while laying down up to seven year imprisonment and a fine up to 5 lakh for identifying any person as a witch.
Albeit the aforesaid state laws are progressive in nature, it is also important to note that witch hunting is prevalent in a large area of nation. Ergo, it is imperative to bring a nation-wide legislation into force in order to ensure that victims from certain areas do not remain ostracized.
The violent incidents of witch hunt are also dealt by invoking various provisions of Indian Penal Code, 1860. Majorly, Section 302 (murder), Section 307 (attempt to murder), Section 323(punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), Section 376 (punishment for rape), and Section 354 (outraging the modesty of a woman) of the Code, 1860 come into force while dealing with the atrocities pertaining to witch hunt.
Nonetheless, the provisions of the Code, 1860, fail to provide sufficient legal support to the heinous offence as the matter is reduced to fragmented chunks of multiple offences. This, certainly, results in a loss of identification of the violence which is accompanied by the practice.
Witch hunt as a social practice
The whole practice of witch hunt entails the social pattern which is being followed from the primitive times. Not only does it encapsulate the authority of regressive yet indelible social norms, it also vividly depicts the repercussions of a deviant behavior. In fact, with superstition being a primary ingredient of the practice, earlier times have created distinctive images of witches.
From a hag on a broom to a woman with supernatural powers, the narrative has undergone some shifts. What remains constant, however, is the horrendously violent treatment which is given to the people who are branded as witches. Going by the witch hunt accounts, the patriarchal Ojhas possess all the social powers to drive an entire town into brutally murdering the supposed evil force.
Interestingly, nowadays, in the present day era, where the progress and development have taken over the mass mindset, many have begun to turn a blind eye towards the issue and label the practice as passé. Some even refuse to acknowledge the prevalence of witch hunt in the technically advanced and modernized times.
While being a part of a larger scheme of gender oppression, witch hunt is a practice which needs to be eradicated altogether. In order to attain the aforesaid scenario, it is absolutely necessary for the legal machinery to make appropriate moves. However, a fair emphasis on the social outlook towards the practice is equally significant in the process.