Human Rights Defense India (HRDI) is an organization committed to protest violations of Human Rights of the victimized and marginalized sections of society wherever they occur. Having realized that ‘witch hunting’ is prevalent in more than 15 States of India, HRDI had organized a symposium – “Witch Hunting in India-A scandalizing reality!” at Indian Law Institute, Bhagwan Das Road, New Delhi-110001 on 30th May, 2013.
The symposium was inaugurated by Dr. Charu Wali Khanna, Member, National Commission for Women.
Dr. Rita Nath Keshari of University of Podducheri, introduced the subject and also read a poem in English on this subject. Sh. Naresh Shandilya a reputed poet read a poem ‘DIAN’.
According to Dr. Charu Wali Khanna, several women have been persecuted, tortured and killed in the garb of witchcraft in the past few decades in 16 States affected by witchcraft. 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. She emphasized the need to make a central legislation addressing this issue.
A documentary on witch hunting created by Ms. Sutapa Deb, Editor, NDTV Social was screened at the symposium. Ms. Sutapa Deb, also shared her experience with victims of witch hunting in the States of Chhattisgarh. She explained as to how Indian women are being humiliated by Ojhas and Tantrik and are being deprived of their belongings. She explained that the widows and single women having financial resources are being specifically targeted by Ojhas and Tantriks to grab their property and assets.
According to Mr. Rajesh Gogna, Secretary General of HRDI, India has a patriarchal society and women here are tortured in the name of many myths and taboos. Crimes relating to witch –hunting are basically committed against the women by family member alongwith the village authorities and so, the State’s responsibility towards the victim is highly necessary but unfortunately the rising torture trend show that the government has actually failed to act against this heinous crime. According to him since 2008, 768 women have been murdered for practicing witchcraft. Their numbers are adding up each year. A Zee Research Group (ZRG) analysis shows that states like Karnataka and Chhattisgarh that reported zero and eight murders respectively in 2010 due to witchcraft has shown a disturbing increase in just one year. While Karnataka reported an increase of 77 cases in 2011, Chhattisgarh increased from eight to 17 cases in 2011.
Mr. Anil Parasar, Registrar, National Commission of Human Rights, represented of National Human Rights Commission. He appraised the gathering the National Commission for Human Rights is seriously concern about this issue and takes cognizance of the problem whenever they are brought to the notice of the Commission. Mr. Anil Parasar appreciated the efforts being made by HRDI and assured that the Bill proposed by HRDI would be forwarded to the appropriate authorities by the Commission.
Ms. Shashi Sail, the Human Rights Activists from Chhattisgarh, shared her experience of fighting for the rights of victims of witch hunting in Chhattisgarh. According to her, brutal killing of tribal women in Chhattisgarh and other States on accusations of practicing witchcraft by a village group, highlights the myriad ways in which the fairer sex is oppressed and exploited. She has opted to live in a village in Mahasamundra District of Chhattisgarh to have firsthand experience of pains and agonies suffered by the victims of witch hunting.
Ms. Madhu Mehra, women rights activists also explained her experience with the victims of witch hunting. According to her several women are lynched, forcibly evicted from their homes and villages and killed once branded as witches. Studies show that in the present scenario, Witch Hunting is not about superstition, but a form of gender-based violence that targets women in rural areas. She insisted that NGOs should come forward and activate themselves at ground level. According to her the Government and the media need to approach gender based violence on part with caste violence, bringing out the injustice of these practices rather than glorifying them.
Dr. Alok Sharma and Advocate Jyotika Kalra presented the Bill titled “Prevention and Prohibition of Witch Hunting in India”. The bill was prepared by the legal team of HRDI which includes Dr. Padmini Singh, Advocate Archana Malik and Kiran Arora. The Bill would be presented to the Parliamentarians for their consideration. Dr. Rashmi Singh and Dr. Padmini Singh conducted the brainstorming on the proposed Bill.
A Resolution was passed condemning the menace of witch hunting. The Government of India was called upon to pass legislation on this subject and National Commission for Women was requested to organize all India conference on this subject. HRDI extended all possible support to both the statutory bodies.
The programme compared by Advocate Nupur Sharma and Mr. Guruprakash of Indian Law Institute.
Dr. Rashmi Singh, Director Academics of HRDI extended the vote of thanks to the august gathering. The seminar was attended by lawyers, journalists, students, authors and representatives of various NGOs sections of society.
Advocate Archna Malik,
Programme Coordinator, HRDI