Witchcraft is still widely believed in and ‘practiced’ in many backward parts of India. Vidarbha and Marathwada regions in Maharashtra have been dubbed ‘the witch-killing hubs of Maharashtra’ where women suspected of witchcraft are attacked and even killed. This tradition is known as Dakin Pratha. In Vidarbha more than 200 cases were registered in respective police stations since 1999 and they continue to occur. Most accused ‘witches’ are widows or destitute women. They just manage their livelihood by doing some menial jobs. However their relatives or neighbors have an eye upon their landed property or house. As such they need some pretext to throw them out or kill them. These people benefit from their deaths or banishment from their home and property.
Black Magic Practitioners-
Part of the witchcraft rationale is that, if prayers can heal at a distance, so can they also harm from afar. The belief in black magic is backed up by practitioners of it, claim that they carry certain sacrifice rituals so as to obtain magical powers, like Karani, Vashikaran, etc. The male parishioners are generally known as Bhagats and female as Chetakins. They claim that their death spells can kill even most poisonous snakes too. Bhagat or Chetakin claims that their spells can cause love, hate and confusion.
Generally mentally deranged woman or someone who has turned very vindictive due to some injustice done to her, turns into Chetakin. Community people who wants to avenge some enemy approach her. She then advises to follow certain rituals, so that victims will be under constant fear of ghost possession or under fear of some mishap or death in the family. Thus word of mouth makes Chetakin very notorious in that area and people are all the while afraid of Chetakin. They will then offer her gifts, money to avoid her spell.
Bhagats are very professionals in this regard and manage their livelihood by claiming that they possess some supernatural powers to vicitmise someone at their wish. Bhagats act like advicers, counsellers or medical practitioners in the community and also they work together to drive out someone from the community. Male dominated community of tribals in Vidarbha region give consent to Bhagat and banish the identified victim from their village or hamlet. Since these hamlets are far away from the nearest police station police are also helpless in preventing the mishap. Sometimes the witch hunting takes place in collaboration with the police too. The female victims of witch hunts invariably have to seek police protection and mostly are ostracized and so driven by the villagers to leave their homes and even give up their properties, their houses etc. often being burned to the ground. The victim is generally blamed for any minor diseases occurring in the area and death of the patient due to lack of medication.
The widespread ignorance and lack of medical information and care in the area for the locals’ reliance on witch-hunting generally results into these vindictive attitude. Lack of reasoning and common sense approach results into fear psychosis.
ANS is mobilising the resources to eradicate this dreadful tradition from this area. ANS has encouraged the young and educated amongst the tribals to open the branches of ANS in their areas and keep watch on unscrupulous activities. The results are quite encouraging. ANS has brought the Govt officials, police authorities and villagers together on one platform to discuss the problems and suggest remedies. ANS is playing vital role in educating the tribals about the root causes of the tradition, health care, importance of education etc.