Between 1484 and 1750, some 200,000 women were tortured, burnt or hanged in Western Europe as witches. (Source
) Many many more were killed across the continent then and even after.
Why were they burned?
Sadhguru explains the reasons for it:
Everywhere in the world, whenever anyone spoke anything other than the existing organized religion of that time, the first thing that the people said was, “Kill.” In Europe, thousands of women were burnt at the stake simply because they showed other kinds of possibilities and capabilities that were not logically understood by people. So they were labeled as witches and burnt. Persecution has always been the thing. (Source
These killings were not just a misunderstanding of spiritual ways by religious fanatics. This was a war of supremacy.
The spiritual women (and men) could have stopped the conversions to Christianity. So, they were targeted and eliminated. And, while they were being eliminated, the religious Christians made an example out of them.
Just as Hypatia was killed by the Christian Bishop in Alexandria. Theologian Phillip Schaf
describes the whole episode of her death thus.
‘This lady, a teacher of the Neo-Platonic philosophy in Alexandria, distinguished for her beauty, her intelligence, her learning, and her virtue, and esteemed both by Christians and by heathens, was seized in the open street by the Christian populace and fanatical monks, perhaps not without the connivance of the violent bishop Cyril, thrust out from her carriage, dragged to the cathedral, completely stripped, barbarously murdered with shells before the altar, and then torn to pieces and burnt. (Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume 3: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity, A.D.311-600, Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1819-1893, p. 50)
Brahmin hatred - work of frustrated missionaries
Now, in a similar way, the Brahmins in India were the greatest impediments to conversion of Hindus by the European missionaries. So, what did they do?
They invented the caste system and started vilifying the Brahmins. One of the most defining book of that time was by a Frenchman Abbé Dubois in 1816 - “Description of the Character, Manners, and Customs of the People of India, and of Their Institutions, Religious and Civil.”
It was the “go-to” source for many. The famous (and in reality devious Max Mueller wrote about Dubois:
the views of an eye-witness, of a man singularly free from prejudice and of a scholar with sufficient knowledge, if not of Sanskrit, yet of Tamil, both literary and spoken, to be able to enter into the views of the natives, to understand their manners and customs, and to make allowance for many of their superstitious opinions and practices, as mere corruptions of an originally far more rational and intelligent form of religion and philosophy. (Dirks, Nicholas B.. Castes of Mind (p. 23). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition. )
“Free from prejudice” and a “scholar”. In his writings, Dubois was “extremely critical of Brahmans, both because he saw them as the chief impediment to Christianization,” writes Nicholas Dirk. Interestingly, Reverend James Hough wrote: “his arguments are founded upon the bad character of the Hindoos, but especially of the Brahmins—upon the extensive influence of the latter over all other castes of Hindoos—upon the nature of their superstitions and the inveteracy of their prejudices.”
So even when there were clear indications that caste was not necessarily important to Indian social context, Dubois and other missionaries - disguised as anthropologists, ethnographers, historians and sociologists - demonized the Brahmins.