The subject of this book is the persecution of witches—of persons supposed to have supernatural powers, which they use to cause harm to other humans. Accusations leading to persecutions may be widespread or restricted; in either case, they are public performances, usually involving large numbers of people, including the accused, the accusers, those said to be able to identity witches, and many other members of the concerned communities.
The present book follows earlier work by the authors, 30 years ago, on witch hunts in the state of Jharkhand, India (Kelkar and Nathan 1991), and an analysis of the demonization of women in Yunnan, China, and Southeast Asia (Nathan, Kelkar, and Yu 1998). Both these works situated witch hunts in the context of internal gender struggles within indigenous societies. In 2016, we extended the analysis to encompass the relationship between witch hunts and the development of a modern capitalist economy, and the resultant increased inequalities and dispossessions in India (Nathan, Kelkar, and Satija, 2016).
Our analysis in this book builds on and extends this body of work, aided by some 110 case studies of witch persecution gathered by us and a group of field researchers—noted as contributors on the book's title page—between 2014 and 2016 in the five Indian states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Telangana. In addition, we build our analysis on a review of literature, court judgments, police records, interviews with police and administrative officials, and relevant civil society organizations. We also included legal analysts in our team to review and analyse court cases related to women (and men) persecuted by their communities as witches. Our study teams included both women and men who have engaged in research and praxis opposing the persecution of women as witches in their communities.
One of the two authors (Dev Nathan) has also spent much time as an activist in the trade union movement in the mineral–industrial belt of Jharkhand and central India. This was not fieldwork on this subject, but it immensely contributed to gaining an understanding of indigenous peoples’ movements and their development issues. The other author (Govind Kelkar) has been part of the feminist movement in India, including that in Jharkhand and other indigenous societies in northeast India.