Contemporary Practices of Witch Hunting: A Report on Social Trends and the Interface with Law

199 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2015

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Partners for Law in Development (PLD)

Date Written: 2014


This is a socio legal study on witch-hunting conducted by Partners for Law in Development (PLD). It is based on action research conducted in collaboration with community organisations in the Indian states of Jharkhand, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. Against the backdrop of sensationalised narratives of witch hunting, and calls for state specific laws, this study reports critical insights that question narratives that mystify and 'other' targeting of women as witches: it questions the relevance of state responses in India that are framed exclusively for witch hunting. The study, the first of its kind in India, provides evidence of contemporary social trends of witch hunting, and the interface of witch hunting related victimization with law. It draws upon a variety of sources: case studies from select blocks in the districts – Bilaspur and Janjgir-Champa (Chhattisgarh), Jamui (Bihar) and Ranchi (Jharkhand); police records collected from Jamui, Bilaspur, Gumla and Ranchi for the years 2010 to 2012; and High Court and Supreme Court judgments from ten states. 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 witchhunting occurs, bringing administrative neglect and governance concerns to the fore. 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 three 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.

Keywords: witch hunting, witch

Suggested Citation

in Development, Partners for Law, Contemporary Practices of Witch Hunting: A Report on Social Trends and the Interface with Law (2014). Available at SSRN: or

Partners for Law In Development (Contact Author)

Partners for Law in Development (PLD) ( email )

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