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Witch hunting menace haunts Jharkhand

Witch hunting menace haunts Jharkhand
Kelly Kislaya, TNN Dec 14, 2012, 03.31AM IST

Prevention of Witch (DAAIN) Practices Act|National Crime Records Bureau|Asha
RANCHI: Several women have been persecuted, tortured and killed in the garb of witchcraft in the past few decades in the state. The social evil of witch hunting still continues unabated here. While most of the women do not have the courage to protest against the harassment they are subjected to, some of them have not only been able to overcome the fear and trauma of being branded as witches, they have emerged as pathfinders for the victims.

According to the data of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), as many as 250 women have been killed after being branded witches in the state in the past one decade. Since January to October 2012, as many as 31 women have been killed in the state. The Prevention of Witch (DAAIN) Practices Act, 2001, is not very effective as the punishment for killing a woman branded as witch is imprisonment between three and six months and fine of upto Rs 1000 or Rs 2000.

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Chhutni Mahato of Saraikela, one of the victims of this disturbing trend, said, “As the Act is not very effective, we do not have any other option but to mobilize women and make people aware about the evils of witch hunting ourselves.” Chhutni was branded a witch by her villagers in 1995. Narrating her story with moist eyes Chhutni said, “The villagers called me a witch, beat me up, made me drink urine and drove me out of the village. When I went to the police station the police refused to lodge an FIR. Fortunately, the then SDO heard me out and took action against the culprits.”

Once she managed to get over the trauma, Chhutni decided to help victims like her. “Till date I have given shelter to over 35 women who have been branded witches and driven out of their villages. I have been fighting for their rights since a long time now,” said Chhutni.

Chhutni is an active member of an organization called the Association for Social and Human Awareness (ASHA) led by socialist Punam Toppo which works for the rights of women who have been victims of witch hunting. Hence, Chhutni is not the only woman who is fighting for the rights of women and there are several other members like her in ASHA who are doing the same to eradicate the evil from the state.

Another member of ASHA, Premlata of Jaspur village, who had also been branded a witch by villagers said, “I was tortured by villagers for a long time. My neighbour had also tried to kill me. When I went to the police station, I was asked to pay bribe to lodge an FIR. I am now a part of ASHA and we go to different villages and identify the women who have been victims of witch hunting. We then fight for their rights”

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