The Practice of Black Magic is a social evil existing in our country fueled
by religious beliefs. It is common practice in the villages of our country that
when a person starts behaving in an inappropriate manner or demonstrates signs
of psychological disorders or diseases, the person is led not to a Psychiatric
Hospital but to a Tantric Baba
or Witch Doctor who allegedly holds
expertise in Occult Arts and Black Magic.
In modern times, Psychiatric Science has progressed to great proportions. The
concepts of Mental Health and Mental Illness are not only recognized by experts
and scientists but even by the law. In such an advanced scientific modern world,
people, who could receive mental help from experts, psychiatrists, and doctors,
are not treated but are submitted to frauds and Witch Doctors claiming to be
able to perform exorcisms to magically “cure” the disease.
The Problem: Explained
No accurate and confirmed data can be presented to portray the ignorance of
people in Villages regarding Mental Health. It is pertinent to note that this
does not fall within the four walls of one religion. Each and every religion,
including Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, as well as other local beliefs supports
such blatant disregard of mental health and human rights. Due to illiteracy and
absence of medical facilities within reach, the condition has worsened and the
approach for help by people to fraudsters, or Witch Hunters, or Witch Doctors
To buttress my contention, I will be putting forth some recent examples. It is
further pertinent to note that such cases go mostly unrecorded and hence, all
that we see in the news is merely the tip of the iceberg or those cases which
end up being extreme cases.
Recently, a thirty-year old woman was killed on suspicion of being a witch in
Jharkhand. The Jharkhand state is prone to witch hunting. This has been the 12th
reported case so far this year.
Another case of death due to exorcism happened in Telangana where the victim, a
twenty four-year old girl was thrashed for 3 days by the perpetrator employed by
a relative, due to which she was hospitalized and later succumbed to injuries.
One of the most recent cases that has come to notice and has grabbed the
attention of the Orissa High Court is that of a murder of a woman, committed
while attempting to free her from an alleged demonic spirit possessing her. A
bail application on behalf of the various accused, one of them being the brother
of the deceased, was heard and dismissed by the Orissa High Court considering
the seriousness of such cases. The court noticed that the petitioner masquerades
as a Witch Doctor and performs exorcisms on allegedly possessed people.
This menace does not limit itself to mental illness. Recently, two kids with
snake-bites were taken to snake charmers instead of the Hospital where the Ojhas
suggested the parents bury the kids in cow dung. The kids died and no action was
taken against the Ojhas.
In another case of State of West Bengal v. Kali Singh and others
women were murdered on the belief that they were Witches. The case was that
around 50 men came to the home of the victims and demanded 60,000 rupees as fine
for carrying out witchcraft activities. On non-payment, the three women were
dragged to the river, killed and buried. In the case, one Hon'ble Judge held
that the commutation of the punishment from death sentence to life imprisonment
is apt relying on the mitigating factor that the accused were blinded by
superstitious belief and they were of scheduled tribe community.
Mental Trauma and Physical Agony inflicted upon the Victims at the hands of such
witch doctors or public, lynching attempts by aggravated public (Witch Hunting),
and Fraud and Extraction of Wealth from Victim and the family of the Victim in
the name of faith.
There are witch doctors that cure such allegedly possessed people off of evil
spirits by exorcisms. In a recent case , this insidious practice of performing
exorcism led to the death of two children aged 4 and 6 years respectively.
To combat the evil that Witch Hunting is, the State Governments have enacted
statutes to particularly criminalize the hideous and diabolical acts committed
against women, children and sometimes men too. States including Bihar,
Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Assam, and Jharkhand
have enacted legislations to combat superstition and to mitigate the crimes
Though these legislations are aimed at providing remedy in individual cases, the
enactments do not aim at eradicating the evil in the society at large. Further,
there is no uniformity in the sentencing or punishment for the crime. In the
statute enacted in Karnataka, the punishment is more than 1 years and upto 7
years, whereas, as per the Bihar legislation the punishment for some crimes is
as low as six months. Apart from that, other problems with the state
legislations include lack of uniform recognition of definition of such acts as
some acts are punishable in some states and some in another, lack of uniform
appeal regarding awareness campaign or scheme, among other things.
These statutes also lack proper coverage. The statutes must not only apprehend
this despicable practice post happening, but at the inception of the problem
itself by offering remedy to the victim. This is where the factor of mental
health becomes relevant.
The Aspect of Mental Health
It is pertinent to state that the Right to Health is integral to Right to Life
under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. This has been upheld and
enunciated by the Supreme Court in State of Punjab v. M.C. Chawla
victims of witch hunting and black magic not only have the Right to Physical
Health but also the Right to Mental Health.
Section 18 of the Mental Healthcare Act 2017 provides the Right to access Mental
Healthcare. Section 20 further provides the Right to be protected from any kind
of Physical, Verbal, or Sexual Abuse.
In the case of Mrs.SashipravaBindhani vs Unknown
, the Orissa High Court
stated that a law is needed for the State to combat the social malady while
recognizing a report on the practice of Banamathi (Kannada for Witch). The
report recognized that the sufferings of Banamathi victims fit into familiar
patterns of Mental and Physical Diseases. It further recognized the
psychological disorders which are found in such victims which include Hysterical
Neurosis, which is a common psychiatric disturbance characterized by episodes of
abnormal behaviour. These are directly understandable in terms of strong
socio-cultural beliefs, family and personal problems, poverty etc.
In the case of Smt.MoynaMurmu Vs. Sri Nanda Murmu
in W.P. No. 27093(W) of
2015, the Court directed that there must be special cells made in prone
districts where the cases of witch hunting are reported often. Prompt
registration of criminal complaints was the main focus in the judgment.
One Stop Center Scheme is a great initiative by the Ministry of Women and Child
Development, Government of India. The location of such one stop centres are
determined by taking into account the number of registered criminal cases,
female population and child sex ratio. Such one stop centers can be used to
combat the problem of reaching the victims of witch hunting. Such one stop
centres and special cells can also be linked with the endeavors of the
Government for awareness of mental health under Section 29 of the Mental Health
Care Act 2017 read with Section 32 of the Mental Health Care Act 2017.
A well defined central legislation is the need of the hour. The only argument
against the legislation is that the problem is constrained in certain areas of
certain states. But it is also essential to consider that only the problem of
widespread Witch hunting is constrained to certain areas. But the acts of such
belief in the Supernatural which do not result in deaths go unnoticed in our
country happen in no specific area but throughout north and south India. Many
cases are not noticed and are considered to be cured by rough and ineffective
methods deployed by naïve witch doctors, when proper remedy and rehabilitation
facilities exist, though, out of reach.