SOAS University of London

SOAS South Asia Institute

Property, Fertility and Witchcraft: A preliminary ethnography of witch-hunting cases in Jharkhand

Mayur Suresh

Date: 23 January 2020Time: 7:00 PM

Finishes: 23 January 2020Time: 8:30 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B103

Type of Event: Seminar


How do we measure the value of land? How would we conceptualise the value of land, which yields crops and supports forms of rural livelihood, if is transformed from a source of sustenance to form of threat to life?

In parts of Jharkhand, witch-hunts and witch-branding are said to be linked to disputes over land. According to official discourse – produced in court judgments, government publications and NGO material – women are branded and targeted for being witches, only for other members of the community to take over women’s land. In this conceptualisation, the allegation of witchcraft is a cover for an attempt to take possession of land.

In this presentation, based on preliminary fieldwork conducted in Jharkhand, I seek to unpack this rationalisation for witch-hunting practices. In doing so, I hope to argue that witch-hunting practices are not linked to attempt to possess land, but rather, to the fertility of land itself.


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Property, Fertility and Witchcraft: A preliminary ethnography of witch-hunting cases in Jharkhand


Dr Mayur Suresh joined SOAS as a Lecturer in Law in September 2015. In 2016, he was awarded a PhD from Birkbeck, University of London for this thesis titled ‘Terrorist’ lives in Delhi’s courts: An ethnography of the legal worlds of terrorism trials. This research is based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork terrorism cases that took place in Delhi’s trial courts. His research seeks to bring an anthropological perspective to the study of legal processes.

Prior to commencing his doctoral studies, Mayur practiced law in Delhi, where he and his colleagues represented a wide variety of clients: from women in domestic violence and matrimonial cases, to trade unions in industrial relations proceedings, to property disputes, to criminal defence and anti-terror cases. While most of this work was at the trial court level, Mayur was a part of the legal team in the Naz Foundation case – that successfully challenged India’s anti-homosexuality law in the Delhi High Court, and defended the judgment in the Supreme Court.

Mayur has co-edited a volume on the politics of the Indian Supreme Court titled The shifting scales of justice: The Supreme Court in Neoliberal India (2014). He is currently completing a book manuscript based on his doctoral research. 

Chair: Prof Peter Flügel

Organiser: SOAS South Asia Institute and Centre of Law, Environment and Development

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