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‘What else do we Bengalis do?’ Sorcery, overseas migration, and the new inequalities in Sylhet, Bangladesh


Assertive Outreach Team, Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust, Ferryview Health Centre, 27 John Wilson Street, London SE18 6PZ, UK.


In Sylhet, Bangladesh, remittances sent home by sons and husbands working abroad have led to new inequalities conducive to the proliferation of sorcery accusations. In cases of illness, sorcery is often the preferred diagnosis. The virilocal rule of residence positions the son's wife as an outsider and, as such, she has been traditionally viewed as the prime suspect in cases of sorcery. This structural tension has been intensified by overseas migration as sons working abroad increase the isolation and vulnerability of their wives. Patients and their families do not passively act out structural contradictions but actively pursue a sorcery diagnosis. Through a detailed case study of one woman's struggle to come to terms with infertility, I show how a diagnosis of sorcery acts as a face-saving mechanism in situations of material inequality between kin.