Witchcraft: Witches in Modern India

The daily life of female witches within modern-day India, from the 19th century to the present, has historically been unpredictable. A large concentration of witches and witchcraft/sorcery, since the 1800s, has existed in large concentrations of certain areas of modern-day India like the state of Bihar. Belief in mystical happenings gave rise to Indian witches, which still exist in rural and tribal areas of the Indian countryside. Yet, despite their long history within modern-day India, witches are frequently kidnapped, tortured, ostracized, and murdered.

It must first be stated that, when discussing witchcraft and sorcery, modern Indians do not lack rational thinking. The term witchcraft appears when a lack of rational thought exists while attempting to explain a particular situation or event. In other words, rational knowledge explains a flat tire, a gunshot wound, or heartbreak from a relationship. In contrast, witchcraft appears after confusion arises in the wake of a situation or event like mysterious deaths and unexplainable calamities. Witches, or their supposed witchcraft, thus becomes a scapegoat.

An early case of this can be traced to 1846 in Chakdara Village in western India, in which the wife of a man was accused of being a witch, or dakan or dain. The person who accused the man’s wife did so after he fell and broke his leg; his accusation thus offered him an explanation (or provided him a scapegoat) for his unfortunate situation. The accuser then traveled, along with many others, to the nearby town of Songadh to consult a priest, or bhagat. After hearing the travelers’ story, the bhagat named each male from the travelers’ village, while simultaneously dropping a grain of lentil into water. The only grain of lentil to float did so when the bhagat named the husband of the accused woman. This event proved to the villagers that she was indeed a dakan. Upon returning to Chakdara Village, permission was obtained from the local chief to burn the accused woman due to her being a dakan. She was subsequently pulled from her home, beaten with sticks, and suspended upside-down over fire until she burned to death.

A more modern case, from 1995, originates in the eastern Indian state of Bihar. A young girl randomly fell ill one day while near her in-law’s house. The local witch doctor quickly stated that the young girl had become possessed by a witch. After studying the young girl’s hands, the witch doctor concluded that a woman from the girl’s in-law’s family, named Kunti, was the witch responsible for her predicament. Kunti denied these allegations and stated that the girl needed to be rushed to a hospital. The girl’s family, opposite Kunti, instead insisted she use her witchcraft to cure the young girl. Kunti and her family were denied help from all involved, including local governing bodies. The following day the village chief, along with the young girl’s father and the village council, decided to drag Kunti from her home and force her to eat human feces, which was supposed to reduce her sorcery powers. Additionally, she was given two choices: leave the village, or face death.

As the aforementioned stories illustrate, the persecution of witches tends to be based on local superstitions. Such is true, as previously stated, in modern-day Bihar. Superstitious beliefs in places like Bihar, India, give way to violent thinking, and sometimes, mob rule. For example, communities in India believe that witches possess evil spirits, and further believe that hosts of these evil spirits should be exterminated. However, not all persecutions are entirely witch-based. If a community member feels the need to exact revenge on, expropriate, or exploit a woman, one may simply accuse a female of being a witch. After an accusation a village witch doctor, known in rural areas of India as an ojha or sokha, attempts to verify the veracity of the accuser’s claims. If the accused female is found to be a witch in possession of evil spirits, actions taken against said woman may be fierce and quick, sometimes resulting in death. Although, if the accused woman adequately compensates an ojha or sokha (monetarily) to conduct an exorcism of her supposed evil spirits, she may save her reputation and possibly her life.

Witchcraft in colonial western India, specifically amongst the spiritualistic Adivasi (aborigines), differed from that of ordinary Hindu cultures and beliefs. Adivasi rarely attended Hindu temples, and they believed in their own set of gods and goddesses. The Adivasi also believed that dakans, as well as great warriors, possessed magical abilities to cast spells and transform themselves into animals. Women, to a much larger degree than men, became dakans after becoming possessed with the spirit of a jogani, or female vampire. Newly created dakans were afraid of the female vampire spirit, though; if they failed the spirit, their life would become ruined. The Adivasi also believed that even after death, dakans could still attack humans.

It was believed, and still is in some areas of India, that witches could use mystical aggression as a violent tool. Dakans, it is thought, attack others out of revenge, if others first harmed or offended her in a particular manner. However, dakans are not believed to attack individuals outside of their immediate tribe, village, or town. Additionally, dakans are said to only attack males, possibly because of the male-dominated participation in witchcraft accusations. Thus, because a dakan’s violence is reciprocal, great uncertainty is directed towards her.

Many stereotypes in western societies, whether seen as a joke or reality, are also used to potentially determine the existence of a witch in India. Physical abnormalities and deformities, like that of a long or large tongue, often garners suspicion. So too does older women, regardless of their marital status, as young females are not believed to be witches. In addition, the personality of a woman may raise eyebrows, specifically when viewed as dynamic, articulate, or troublesome.

While many urbanized areas have ceased the belief in witches or their magical power, certain rural areas of India still harbor these traditions. With this comes the unfortunate, continual act of witch hunting. Every year, dozens of women are devalued, shunned, or murdered for their actual or supposed beliefs in various forms of witchcraft.


  • Roy, Puja. “Sanctioned violence: development and the persecution of women as witches in South Bihar.” Development in Practice, no. 8 (May 1998): 1-12. https://libcatalog.atu.edu:2328/stable/4029299?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents.
  • Russell, Jeffrey Burton. “Witchcraft In Africa And The World.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Last modified in 2019. https://www.britannica.com/topic/witchcraft/Witchcraft-in-Africa-and-the-world.
  • Skaria, Ajay. 'Women, Witchcraft and Gratuitous Violence in Colonial Western India.' Past & Present, no. 155 (1997): 109-41. http://www.jstor.org/stable/651128.
07 July 2022
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now