Salem. March 1692. Sarah Osborne, Sarah Good, and Tituba the slave are accused of witchcraft. Both Sarahs claimed innocence, but Tituba confessed that “the Devil came to me and bid me serve him” (Find my source here!). All three women were arrested. The accusers — Elizabeth Parris, Abigail Williams, and Ann Putnam — were all under the age of twelve.
After the three initial arrests in Salem, an epidemic of witchcraft trials flooded the town and surrounding region. Even the four-year-old daughter of Sarah Good was accused; her testimony taken as evidence against her. All told, twenty women were executed in Salem for witchcraft. (Check out this other site from the University of Missouri – Kansas City)
But if they had had microcredit loans, they might have been able to stave off accusation.
CBS News reported back in 2009 about modern-day witch hunts in remote regions of India. At the time of reporting, five people had recently been hacked to death for allegedly “practicing sorcery.” Between 2004 and 2009, over 150 people had been killed under allegations of practicing witchcraft.
Sociologist Soma Chaudhuri from Michigan State University studied witch hunts in India for seven months, and one thing has seemed to work to dissuade witch accusations: microcredit loans.
Women in rural parts of India can apply for a low-interest, collateral free microcredit loan (equal to about $18) to start their own businesses. Once involved in the loan program, women join a support group of other women who have started businesses. A group of mobilized women can protect others from allegations of witch hunts. Check what Yahoo! News has to say:
In one case documented in Chaudhuri’s study, a woman was accused of causing disease in livestock. Group members gathered in a vigil around her home and the home of the accuser. They stated their case to the accuser’s wife, who intervened. The accuser’s husband ultimately recanted his accusation and asked forgiveness.
Chaudhuri then goes on to say that the women involved in microcredit groups are able to resist the tradition of witch hunts because “they believe in the ideals of the microcredit group – in women’s development, family development and gender equality.”
Both the accusations of witchcraft in seventeenth century Salem and in twenty-first century India stem from heightened superstition and gender inequality. The microcredit group that Chaudhuri observed in India is bringing balance and equality into the mix. As empowered business owners, these women are able to stop witch hunts before they escalate into the mass chaos that defined Salem in 1692.