"The villagers, especially the women, call me a witch. They insult me, torture me, and beat me up. They wanted me to leave the village. A couple of days back, they tied me around a tree and I was beaten badly. I am scared. How can I live in a place where people are after my life?"
In filing a complaint against five of her fellow villagers, Kamla Bairwa of Jhalra village in Rajasthan's Tonk district described the horrendous pattern of abuse that she and many other women accused of witchcraft frequently endure. While police have launched an investigation, the process is slow and frustrating and prosecutions remain elusive. In July 2010, another woman, Vimla Devi of Nimera village was threatened when a gang of men tried to break down her door and kill her because a child in the village had suddenly become ill. She was only saved after other villagers intervened and urged that the child be taken to a doctor instead. Vimla had been attacked on previous occasions and was once so badly injured that she spent time in an intensive care ward at a local hospital. Villagers accused her of learning witchcraft from her deceased mother-in-law, who had also faced similar accusations.
Despite India's attempts at modernization, belief in witchcraft remains strong in Rajasthan province and many other parts of the country. Women such as Bairwa and Devi (who are often members of the untouchable Dalit caste or otherwise ostracized) are frequently targeted for verbal and physical abuse for being suspected witches. Many women are accused as witches due to being mentally ill, widowed, infertile, or otherwise considered "ugly" or abnormal. Any misfortune happening in the village, whether illness or natural disaster is blamed on them. The ill-treatment they receive often results in further isolation, murder attempts, and suicide. Being socially ostracized also makes them unable to work or travel and fear of retaliation prevents many victims from laying charges against their attackers.
In one horrific case in 2009, an accused witch in her seventies was assaulted, stripped, and dragged to the village centre where she was forced to eat excrement as punishment. Despite a large gathering, none of the other villagers came to her assistance. When her son attempted to lay a complaint with the local police, he faced opposition from village elders. Only the intervention of India's National Commission of Women (NCW) forced the police to make arrests in the case. Between 2004 and 2009, as many as 137 women were killed for being witches and service agencies suspect the actual number as being much higher.
In an attempt to curb the witch hysteria,the women's commission in Rajasthan has prepared a draft bill to make witchcraft accusations a criminal offense. Titled the Rajasthan Prevention of Witch Practices Bill, it was first put forward in 2006 although there has been little action to date. Government officials and police representatives continue to obstruct legislation and insist that anti-witch violence is not a significant problem. Although the Rajasthan Home Department introduced a directive in 2004 to make witch-hunting illegal, it is rarely enforced and many police officers are unaware that the order exists. Those few complaints which are laid are typically prosecuted as assault cases. If Rajasthan does pass the Witch Practices Bill, it will be only the fourth province in India to ban witch accusations and prosecution of women for witchcraft.