Giridih (Jharkhand): It was an unusually cold December night and the waxing moon shone faintly over Bandhabad, a village 15 km from the district headquarters of Giridih in eastern Jharkhand. Shanti Devi finally managed to sleep, her 10-year-old granddaughter Neetu by her side, their feet warm at last in each other’s company.
Suddenly, a frantic banging on the door woke her up, and she saw a group of people barge into her tiny mud house, calling out her name. Before she could make any sense of the commotion, she found herself being dragged out by her hair. Her granddaughter wailed, and her pet goats bleated.
The attackers pulled her out into the street and attacked her. She was beaten with sticks and punched. Her shoulders, back and legs were bruised, but what hurt her most was the word that was constantly flung at her: dayan (witch).
“She is a witch.”
“She killed our boy.”
“She will finish us too.”
Shanti Devi is among the latest victims of a centuries-old social evil still prevalent in Jharkhand and a few other Indian states. The trigger could include unexplained illnesses in the family or loss of livestock, dwindling financial fortune and even deaths. Whatever the cause, it is a woman, usually from a disadvantaged community, who is blamed, accused of practising black magic, ostracised, beaten and even killed.