MAKING A DIFFERENCE

FIGHTING WITCH HUNT

Nanki Manjhi, a 70 – year – old tribal woman, was beaten to death in Jharkhand’s Giridih district, barely 180 Km from the state Capital, Ranchi December last year. Another, elderly woman was thrashed and paraded across the localities. The duos were branded ‘witch’ before they were pulled out, assaulted and paraded in full public view. The aggrieved families revealed that the widows were dragged out from their respective houses just a couple of day after the death of the 10–year–old son of a villager Ramu Tuddu. The deceased was ill for more than a week before he died. The matter came to limelight only after a group of villagers, including the local panchayat officials, came to know about the incidents. “We have witnessed many such incidents across the localities, but shockingly neither the victims nor the aggrieved families file any complaint in this regard. There may be several reasons, but lack of awareness among the rural masses is the cause behind the intentional or non-intentional suppression of such incidents”, said a local Zila Parishad, member, Anup Pandey.

The 45–year–old, Ramu, and his families had nursed grudges against the women, who often blamed them for any occurrence in their day to day life. They suspected that Nanki Devi, with the help of her relative, by practicing black magic, invited chronic illness for their son. It was about 3-4 am in morning when the perpetrators, armed with sticks and traditional weapons barged into their houses, separately, and dragged them out. They later assaulted the duo. Nanki Devi died on the spot, while her relative, another elderly woman, managed to flee from the spot. It was not an isolated incident. As per the record about half a dozen of such incidents were reported over the past two years in Giridih and neighbouring areas. On May 30, 2017, a 60-year-old tribal woman Bitia Hansda was killed for allegedly practicing witchcraft in Jarmundi area of Dumka, the sub-capital of Jharkhand.

JHARKHAND, BREEDING GROUND FOR WITCH HUNTING

Known for its rich mineral wealth, the tribal dominated green Jharkhand is fast emerging as a ‘breeding ground’ for ‘witch hunting’. According to the annual report released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in December 2017, the state topped the chart of witch-hunt murders in the country with 27 women lynched after being accused of witchcraft in 2016. Jharkhand is followed by Odisha and Madhya Pradesh, with 24 and 19, witch-hunting murders respectively. Thought the NCRB report also reveals that the trend of such kind of incidents has declined by more than 50% since 2013. But the social activists believe that these issues still need to be addressed at all levels. “A total number of 54, 47 and 32 cases of murder for alleged witchcraft practicing in Jharkhand were reported during 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively,” the NCRB report reveals. Analytical reports revealed that altogether 523 women were lynched after being branded ‘witch’ from 2001 to 2016 in Jharkhand. The practice of branding women as witches and torturing them continues unabated in remote rural areas of the neighbouring Bihar too. In the last two years, more than 250 women have been tortured and beaten on suspicion of practising witchcraft in Bihar, police records say.

OTHER STATES

Tribal-dominated Jharkhand, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Assam, West Bengal and Bihar are among the worst affected states. Hundreds of women have been persecuted, tortured and killed in the garb of witchcraft in past few decades in these four states. This apart, many such cases were also reported from Assam, Rajasthan, Kerala, UP, MP, AP and other states. India has witnessed unprecedented killings of more than 2290 persons majorities of them are women for practicing witchcraft in the same period. Jharkhand clearly the worst affected State, accounting for more than one fifth of the victims.

REAONS BEHIND CRIME AND THE VICTIMS

Not only have the social activists, even the Government officials believe that their strategy to tackle the menace of witchhunting is not sufficient. They need more attentions to tackle the issue. The Government data as well as the police reports suggest that in many cases, relatives of the victims or the deceased have been found to be the conspirators, who got the widows branded as witches and killed them. “Low literacy rate among the tribal women, the dominance of local priests or the gunees and conservative practices since time immemorial are among few other reasons behind rampant witchcraft practices in the countryside of Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and adjacent states. These activities have gripped the society in such way that sometimes, they kill their own aunt, uncle or other widows as they hold some grudge against them,” said Piyush Kumar Singh, a social activist and MA final year student, department of LLLE, Delhi University. Piyus, who recently visited few such areas in Giridih, Ranchi and Dumka districts of Jharkhand, found that the issues remained to be addressed properly. “There is a need of utmost attention by the NGOs, panchayat members or the government agencies instead of merely making new policies or rules to eradicate the menace”, another student Nidhi Sharma said. “As per our findings, mostly the victims were elderly widow women across the country. This apart, the widows and childless women with lower age groups were also witnessed facing such woes in many ways across the country,” she added.

CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS AND LEGAL FRAMEWORKS TO CONTROL WITH CRAFT/WITCH HUNTING IN INDIA

Apart from other constitutional provisions and laws meant to prevent the rampant witch craft practicing in India, special laws in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Odisha, West Bengals and others have also been made to tackle the issue. In 1999, Bihar enacted The Prevention of Witch (Daain) Practices Act, 1999 and Jharkhand adopted Bihar’s act in 2001 as Prevention of Witch-hunting (Dayan Pratha) Act, 2001. Besides, there are few sections and provisions in the IPC and Cr.PC to control such incidents with actions. However, it remains a matter of same that in thr 18th year of the 21st century and 70 years after independence we have so far failed to eradicate this evil practise which denigrates women.