Malleus In Culture

The Prevalence of Witches in India

Indian Witch

According to writer Anusua Mukherjee, a lot more than just legislation is needed to curb the frequent incidents of witch-hunting in Odisha, India. She cites the Malleus Maleficarum in a recent article for The Telegraph newspaper in Calcutta, India.

According to Mukherjee;

The Witch Hammer, 1486, speaks in the authoritative voice of a book of law – in terms convincing in their precision, it lays down the rules with which the process of “justice”, involving the identification, prosecution and systematic elimination of witches (almost always women), is to be conducted.

She brings the influence of the Malleus Maleficarum into a contemporary context;

Not surprisingly, the book sat on every magistrate’s desk during the Inquisition and was referred to repeatedly in molesting, torturing and killing women by branding them the devil’s accomplices. The methodology it codified – singeing the woman with a red hot iron to extract confessions, stripping her, shaving her body – does not really sound so medieval when considered in the context of contemporary Indian reality.

She then illustrates examples of how the tactics set forth in the Malleus Maleficarum are sometimes applied in a modern world.

Here, the common people’s continuing lack of access to the formal justice system in remote and not-so-remote areas means that any powerful person, starting from the local MP, the village headman, to an ojha (healer) or a quack, can mimic the voice of law to serve his interests, as the author of Malleus Maleficarum did.

If in Birbhum in West Bengal, the kangaroo court led by the village morol allegedly sentenced the 20-year-old girl to a gang-rape because it had judged her guilty of indiscretion, in the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, a 45-year-old widow was recently killed by two men who had been led to believe that she was a witch responsible for the death of their relatives.

The places and the details of the crime differ but the victim is invariably a woman, usually from an impoverished background, whose fraught position in terms of gender, class and economy makes it easy for her community to eliminate her by giving her a convenient name – whether of a person of loose morals or of a witch.


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