Thursday, June 25, 2015

India - Contemporary Practices of Witch-Hunting: Reports on Social Trends and Interface with Law


Partners for Law in Development
Partners for Law in Development (PLD) presents its critical three-state study on witch-hunting in the Indian states of Jharkhand, Bihar and Chhatisgarh, Contemporary Practices of Witch-hunting: A Report on Social Trends and the Interface with Law. This along with its study of the practice in North-Eastern state, Witch-hunting in Assam: Individual, Structural and Legal Dimensions, are based on action research and primary data from the field. These two studies mark the culmination of a longer engagement by PLD with the targeting of women (and men) as 'witches', through literature review and regional consultations across India (see list of publications below). 
The socio-legal studies, which are the first of its kind in India, provide evidence of contemporary social trends of witch-hunting, the continuum of violations connected with it, and their interface with law. The studies draw from a variety of sources: case studies from select blocks in the districts, police records, and High Court and Supreme Court judgments. Using the ethnographic data, the reports bring into focus structural causes that make it possible to rationalize conflicts and losses through witch-hunting.
The findings suggest that that witch-hunting targets middle aged and older, mostly married women, across social groups. Although significantly fewer, there are male victims too. The data shows that the most violent acts, including murder, are one end of a continuum of violence which accompanies witch-hunting. Social stigma and ostracism, temporary or long term dislocation and resultant impoverishment are more common consequences of witch-hunting in the regions of the study. Threads of counter narratives challenge the flat discourse that conflates witch hunting with superstition and also highlight the relevance of structural contexts in which witch hunting occurs, bringing administrative neglect and governance concerns to the fore.  
The studies caution against viewing witch hunting across regions and continents in broad brush strokes, mystifying it by overplaying superstition when in fact, a complex factors are at play. The findings suggest that narratives that 'other' witch hunting, tend to obfuscate rather than enable constructive state intervention and accountability.   
In relation to law and policy, the data and findings speak to the growing trend of enacting special laws at the state level in India. Though the four states where the field work was undertaken have special laws on witch-hunting- these are rarely, if at all, invoked on their own. Rather, action is likely to be taken under the Indian Penal Code when violence escalates. Preventive action is unlikely. Issues of reparative/ rehabilitation components of justice remain missing in the current legal responses including the special laws.  The study thus offers an evidence based critique of current trends in law and policy making in response to incidences of witch-hunting.
Contemporary Practices of Witch-Hunting: Report on Social Trends and the Interface with Law (2014)
Witch-hunting in Assam: Individual, Structural and Legal Dimensions (2014)
Piecing Together Perspectives on Witch Hunting: A Review of Literature (2013)
Targeting of Women as Witches: Trends, Prevalence and the Law (2012)
All four publications are available in a set, and also individually, on order. To place an order, please write to resources@pldindia.org.
Madhu Mehra - Executive Director
Partners for Law in Development
New Delhi, India
Email:   pldindia@gmail.com
            
Website: http://www.pldindia.org
http://www.academia.edu/11968361/Contemporary_Practices_of_Witch_Hunting_A_Report_on_Social_trends_and_the_interface_with_law

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