Despite a law in place, poor women from marginalised communities in Jharkhand continue to be branded as ‘witches’ and tortured.
Three days ago, in the neighbouring district to Mukesh’s, a Dalit woman was branded a witch and subsequently beaten to death. In his video he profiles Rubiya Bibi, who was brutally tortured by a group of men after being accused of performing black magic. She filed a case more than five months ago which is still pending. Now her children are victimised daily and her brother was recently accused of theft. A mother of four and the wife of a mentally handicapped man, Rubiya is destitute and desperate. Despite Jharkhand being one of the first Indian states to adopt a law against witchcraft-related cruelties in 2001, the state continues to see a ridiculously high number of such attacks – 249 deaths between 2001 and 2008.
This is just one of many, many cases, says Mukesh. He explains that in these villages, there are multiple reasons for people being accused of black magic, ostracised and tortured. Often it is the poorest women from marginalised communities who are blamed for inexplicable deaths or other tragic incidents in their neighbourhoods; priests with personal vendettas spread rumours about certain families; old widows are singled out and superstitious myths are concocted about them.
Mukesh has a friend whose grandma was one such old woman. He never asked why she had been called a witch because he didn’t want to offend his friend. “I used to go to their house all the time, but nothing ever happened. I don’t believe in witchcraft. There is no logic in these superstitions.”
It is not just uneducated people who believe these things, he explains. It is a much deeper issue of faith and belief in the context of social structures such as caste, religion and politics. He says that people should be made aware of the fallacies. Debates should be conducted at the panchayat level. Like Rubiya Bibi’s father, who asked that her persecutors prove that she is a witch, Mukesh thinks everyone should be forced to question these suppositions in the face of scientific proof. He wants to show this video to women’s organisations in his area, such that they can support Rubiya Bibi in her fight for justice.