From: India Blogs NY Times
Shanta Devi was branded a witch nearly a decade ago, after her family was plagued by long bouts of fever and breathing problems.
Villagers still cover their faces while crossing the 65-year-old woman, who lives in a tribal belt about 60 miles outside Udaipur city in the desert state of Rajasthan. Last year, the branded woman’s relatives were advised by a witch doctor to make her drink goat’s blood as a cure. But she refused, even as neighbors wielded sticks in her backyard to pressure her into doing so.
For generations, women have been frequently branded as witches in villages spread across the dusty Aravalli hills and elsewhere in rural parts of India, blamed for unexplained or incurable illnesses among villagers and livestock. The lack of medical facilities near remote villages allows these superstitious beliefs to prevail. In recent years, activists have pushed for better medical facilities and sanitary conditions in tribal villages.
Lakshmi Jain, a social worker with Seva Mandir, a local nongovernmental organization, said that perpetrators of witch-branding often have wide support.
Ms. Jain said that her organization has focused on working with progressive village women who can fight witch-branding from inside the community. “We are seeing results,” she said. “Women are still branded, but we hear of far less cases of heinous crimes like burnings, tonsuring hair and killings.”
Lawmakers in Rajasthan have failed to criminalize witch-branding, but the practice is common even in states like Jharkhand that have made it illegal. Activists say a combination of severe punishment, a sensitized police force, easily accessible medical facilities and education can combat the deep-rooted persecution.