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 A woman and children were found dead in a well near their home.

Ancient Superstitions Pervade India as Modern ‘Witch Hunt’ Leaves Mother and Children Dead

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A shocking story from India is showing that in some areas of the world old superstitions are still alive and leading to terrible crimes. The belief in witchcraft is still common in many areas of India and is leading to ‘witch hunts’ that result in torture and murder. In a recent incident a woman accused of being a witch was murdered, along with her four children.

Earlier this month the bodies of Mangri Munda and her children were found in a well near their home in Orissa in Eastern India, reports the BBC News. It is believed that a large crowd attacked the home of Mrs. Munda and killed her and her young family, including a 10-month infant. They were led by a man who claimed to be a ‘witchdoctor’ and the reason for the murders was that the mother was accused of being a sorceress, who was casting evil spells and that she and her children needed to be killed.

Women in morning, Orissa, India. (Public Domain)

Women in mourning, Orissa, India. (Public Domain)

Witch Hunts in the Past and Today

In Medieval Europe, unknown thousands, accused of being witches were burned alive or executed. According to the CSI, “allegations of witchcraft that result in communal murder have long been a part of rural India’s history.” These outbreaks occurred because of mass hysteria, superstition, or social tensions in both Europe and Asia.

However, witch hunts are not a thing of the past in parts of India such as Orrisa and Jharkhand, especially in Tribal communities. Traditional beliefs such as the religion Saran perpetuate ideas that lead to ‘witchcraft hunts’, which are often regarded by the superstitious as actions to save the local people from practitioners of black magic. Many of these rural regions are blighted by poverty, poor services, and a communist insurgency and this is creating an environment where desperate people are willing to accept magic as an explanation for their many misfortunes.

There is little or no healthcare in these underdeveloped districts, so many sick people and their relatives turn to witchdoctors for help. It is still widely thought that magic and charms can help a sick person to recover. Many believe that the cause of their illness is a result of a spell cast by witches known as ‘Dayans’ in the local language.

Indian Tribal woman standing near house. (Parij Borgohain / Public Domain)

Indian Tribal woman standing near house. (Parij Borgohain / Public Domain)

There is something of a witch craze in the State of Orissa at the moment, similar to that which occurred in Salem in Colonial America in the 1600s. The BBC reports that “police records state that 99 cases of ‘witch hunting’ were reported Orrisa in 2017” and that they are becoming more common. This is despite the local government passing a law called the Prevention of Witch Hunting Act to suppress these outbreaks of violence according to Sky News. These outbreaks are often a form of communal violence when community members participate in terrible violence against men, women, and children, but most victims are females.

India Tribal Woman Women Odisha India. (Maxpixel / Public Domain)

India Tribal Woman Women Odisha India. (Maxpixel / Public Domain)

How to Stop the Witch Hunts

Police in Orrisa, have arrested six people, including the self-appointed ‘witchdoctor.’ According to the MENAFN website, the local police “are hunting further suspects” since more people, than the six already in custody, participated in the gruesome murders. It is widely accepted that more needs to be done to end these murderous outbursts. Not even the imposition of the death penalty on those who have murdered alleged witches has stopped these barbaric hunts.

India searches for witch hunters after murder of mother and 4 children. (Eky Chan / Adobe)

India searches for witch hunters after murder of mother and 4 children. (Eky Chan / Adobe)

There needs to be a campaign of education that will counter the widespread belief in sorcerers and black magic. Many Indian activists have tried to counter the beliefs that lead to these deadly witch hunts. Moreover, these areas need better social services and measures taken to raise the status of women. It is clear that an integrated approach is needed to end the killing of alleged witches.

The killing of Mrs. Munda and her children shows the persistence of the belief in witches in India. It also demonstrates that such ideas can have dangerous and even fatal consequences. The murders also show that without education the belief in superstitions can have tragic consequences.

Top image: A woman and children were found dead in a well near their home. Source: Magnus Manske / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Ed Whelan

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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