This is a unique study that brings together a holistic theoretical approach on the subject of witchcraft accusations and witch hunts that is taking place in a traditional adivasi migrant community within a tea plantation wage economy in Jalpaiguri, West Bengal, India.
Using a combination of methods, such as archival methods (police and newspaper archives), qualitative methods of interviewing, and ethnography, in Jalpaiguri district in West Bengal, I explore how a community that is socially, economically and politically oppressed uses witchcraft accusations to deal with stress. To argue that these witch hunts in Jalpaiguri as a form of violence against women is only one side of the story. Instead, what is crucial for understanding the incidents of hunts in the plantations, is to place the individuals and events within the context and framework of plantation politics, where accusing the women of witchcraft brings forward only one side of the puzzle. There is a plethora of scholarly work that explores the unequal socio-economic relationship between the workers and the plantation owners/management and highlights a long history of economic exploitation and social neglect by the latter. I argue that the witchcraft accusations in Jalpaiguri can be interpreted as a periodic reaction of the adivasi worker community against their oppression by the plantation management as the typical avenues of social protest accessible to any other communities are often unavailable for the workers due to lack of organizational and political resources. Here the dain (witch) becomes a scapegoat for the malice of the plantation economy and the incidents of witch hunts are a discourse. It is within this discourse that witch hunts are not viewed as exotic/primitive rituals of a backward community, but as a powerful protest by a community against its oppressors.
Investigator: Soma Chaudhuri
Start date: 2003