Witch hunts maybe a common practice in the tea plantations of Jalpaiguri, India, but small groups of women in the tribal regions of West Bengal, who are being provided aid through a non-governmental loan program, have achieved some success in stopping this deep-seated tradition, a Michigan State University sociologist has revealed.
Soma Chaudhuri spent seven months studying witch hunts in her native India and discovered that economic self-help groups have made it a part of their agenda to defend their fellow plantation workers against such hunts.
"It's a grassroots movement and it's helping provide a voice to women who wouldn't otherwise have one," said Chaudhuri, an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice.
"I can see the potential for this developing into a social movement, but it's not going to happen in a day, because an entire culture needs to be changed," she added.
Witch hunts are common in the poverty struck tribal regions of West Bengal, where women are tied up, tortured and killed after being falsely accused of witchcraft.
Chaudhuri explained that witch hunts are fueled by the tribal workers' belief in the existence of witches and the desperate need of this poor, illiterate population to make sense of rampant diseases in villages with no doctors or medical facilities.
In her study, Chaudhuri interviewed the villagers at length and found that such attacks are often impulsive, and that the "witch" is often killed immediately. Widespread alcoholism is also a factor, she found.
However, she said that through a loan program run by nongovernmental activists, women in such areas are issued a low-interest, collateral-free "microcredit" loan of about 750 rupees ($18) to start her own business such as basket weaving, tailoring or selling chicken eggs, which has been successful in encouraging people to look beyond the economic aspects and mobilize against domestic abuse, alcoholism and the practice of witch hunts.