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Ritumoni Doley was leading a normal life at Bahfola village in Jorhat. Her family consisted of her husband and two children. The family was totally unaware that very soon their lives are going to change for the worst. And on a fateful night of 2012, her family was evicted by a group of people on charges of witchcraft. Ever since, Ritumoni is living at her maternal place along with her husband and two children.
This is only one such story, whereas there are hundreds of such stories in Assam. At this advance age of science and technology, witchcraft is found only in fairy tales towards the west, but here in Assam, it is a dreaded reality. With 73.18 literacy rate, Assam the gateway to Northeast and Southeast Asia is bordered by the other northeastern states which have a higher literacy rate compared to the national average. But, it seems that education has failed to throw light into the minds of many.

Superstition is definitely a term many will suggest. But is it really a superstitious belief that led to gross human rights violation in this land known, best known for its tea. History and anthropology has to say that witch hunting is a practice that dates back to the beginning of human civilization. Often it was believed in those times, that a witch has a hand behind various diseases and other evil things taking place in the society. But unfortunately, though the human race have today moved beyond the solar system with advance science and technology, the very thought of a witch in the society still lives in some mindsets. Taking advantage of this superstitious believe many crimes are being carried out in the society, some for vested interest and some for personal enmity. Yes, personal enmity.
In 90% cases, it has been witnessed that the victims have some personal enmity with the perpetrators. And in the cases reported from rural areas, the main reason behind personal enmity is for land related issues. Taking advantage of the clout of superstitious beliefs, the perpetrators often entice local public against the victims and hatch a conspiracy. And in some cases, participation of villagers in large numbers has been witnessed, which is in fact a matter of grave concern. Due to the influence of superstitious belief and Assam having the name of a land of black magic, rumour spreads like a wildfire. And when it comes to witchcraft, you don’t need much to frame someone in the rural belts, particularly the tribal areas where paganism was practiced till recent time.
You might be wondering, why the police and government is doing nothing. Why the culprits are not booked? Well, in many cases the culprits moves freely due to lack of evidence and as already mentioned in some cases the involvement of an entire village makes it impossible for the police to take action.
Believe it or not, in one case that occurred in a village in Majuli, a river island in Jorhat district, it took three days for the police to enter the village. The entire village population comprising people mainly from the Mishing community came together after being misled by a woman claiming to be an incarnation of Shiva and subjected 38 people to inhumane torture. Following a standoff of almost 72 hours the police succeeded in entering the village and arrested all involved in the case rescuing the victims. Though many thought this will send a strong message to the believers of superstition. It failed. Such cases of ‘incarnation’ are common these days in Assam. And most of the time it is either Shiva or Kali who comes and occupies the body of the human. Trust me, they believe it.
The government data itself speaks in volume. From 2008 to Oct 2013, 81 cases of witch hunting were registered. Note it many went unreported. However, many cases remained unreported. And the state government or the home department has no details of the unreported cases. So, you can easily figure out the frequency of witch hunt in the state. And let me tell you, in most of these cases it is some ‘incarnated soul’ who pointed out that this man or woman is a witch.

In between 2008 to October 2013, 81 people fell prey to witch hunting.
2008 Goalpara (1), Kokrajhar (2), Sonitpur (3), Chirang (2), Baksa (2) 10
2009 Sonitpur (2), Baksa (1) 3
2010 Kokrajhar (1), Jorhat (3), Nagaon (1), Chirang (2), Udalguri (1), Baksa (3) 11
2011 Kamrup Rural (1), Goalpara (2), Kokrajhar (6), Sonitpur (2), Sibsagar (1),
Jorhat (3), Dibrugarh (1), North Lakhimpur (1), Nagaon (1), Bongaigaon (1), 27
Dhemaji (2), Chirang (3), Udalguri (2), Baksa (1)
2012 Guwahati Metro (2), Goalpara (1), Sonitpur (3), Sibsagar (1), Jorhat (1),
Golaghat (1), Dibrugarh (1), Nagaon (1), Chirang(1), Udalguri (2) 14
2013 Kamrup Rural(1), Kokrajhar(3), Sonitpur(2), Jorhat(1), Golaghat(1),
North Lakhimpur(2), Dhemaji (1), Chirang(2), Udalguri(2), Cachar(1) 16

*As per government data.

Apart from these ‘incarnated souls’, there are these ‘Ojhas’ or ‘Bej’ also known as ‘Kabiraj’ in Hindi, who have the ‘divine’ ability to identify a witch. In one recent case a veteran athlete of international repute was subjected to inhumane torture after an Ojha identified her as a witch. This story is kinda interesting. The story took shape following the death of some people after consuming country liquor. Following the death of these drunkards, the villagers performed a Puja to do away with the evil spirit in the village. To the athlete’s hard luck, she got an invitation to participate in an international event during that time. It was known to the villagers. Soon after the puja, a local Ojha identified Debajani as the one whose soul has been captured by the witch. And the result, she was subjected to inhumane torture by the villagers. She was dragged to the village ‘Naamghar’ (Temple) in broad daylight and was striped in front of all. Some even made video clips of this, which was later aired in the regional media. Don’t you think it was a case of personal enmity or jealousy?
Social activist Dibyajyoti Saikia who has been fighting against witch hunting says, ‘’in most of the cases, the reason behind is personal enmity. Victims and perpetrators are either relatives or neighbours. The influential wins the card.’’ Saikia also added that, ‘’due to the negligence of the social welfare department, home department, health department and the education department of the state, the number of such witch hunt cases are increasing in the state. If these departments don’t take any prompt action now, then in the days to come this social stigma will take shape of a plague.’’

Birubala Rabha, is a known name when it comes to witch hunting. This brave lady has managed to save many people targeted as witch by some social evils. However, due to government’s apathy Birubala Rabha and many other like Dibyajyoti Saikia is unable to bring a change that is much needed.
‘’Creating awareness among the people is the only solution to this gruesome witch hunt cases,’’ says Hemanta Madhab Gogoi, a computer engineer turned social entrepreneur. Gogoi believes that introducing a chapter on superstition in the curriculum is the need of this hour. Even, Dibyajyoti Saikia shares the same opinion in this regard. But, is it possible when a mass population follows a superstitious belief despite being educated.
Saikia, who has been also pressing for a separate law to curb superstitious practices, lamented that though in 2013 Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi assured in the Assam assembly to consider bringing a separate law to curb this social menace, till date now measures have been taken by his government.
The plight doesn’t end here. It will be shocking for you that most of such witch hunt cases have never been reported by any ‘national media’. Only the regional media use air the news, failing to bring a major impact at the national level. The media who plays a vital role in the socio-political and economic scenario should step in and bring these matters into light. Witch hunt is now a cancer, it is growing bigger and bigger. It needs to be stopped. And to stop it, all the mechanism of the society will have to work together. The government, the media, the public all will have to come together.
There are many such cases. And the count is increasing every day. I was an active journalist for a regional channel for more than three years before moving to Mumbai and I don’t remember a single month when there was no news about witch hunt. One news about a witch hunt is a sure shot every week.

Category : Writing


Date Added : 25-12-2014