Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. His current project is a non-fiction book about the lack of personal and economic freedoms in post-Independence India.
The Times of India has a story today on a tribal woman in a village in Madhya Pradesh who was accused of witchcraft by her fellow villagers.
A group of villagers ... took the woman to a deserted location and forced her to pick a silver coin from a vessel containing boiling oil. The woman suffered severe burns on both her hands and she fell unconscious. However, this did not deter the villagers and they thrashed her badly with hot iron rods due to which she received head injuries. [...]
The villagers then dumped her outside her house. Her family members, including her husband, did not allow her inside…
Why was she suspected of being a witch? Well, two members of a family had died in the space of a month, and the villagers, presumably driven by other enmities, blamed those deaths on this poor woman. Once accused, she had no chance of proving herself innocent. A villager explained to ToI:
Women, whosoever, labelled as a ‘witch’ by the villagers has to pick a silver coin from a tank filled with boiling oil, with both her hands. If her hands are burnt, her witchhood is confirmed, otherwise she is declared innocent.
So if you’re a woman is such a village, especially low down in the social hierarchy, you’d better make sure you don’t piss anyone off. Unless you’re really a witch and have burn-proof arms.
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