Ranchi: The witch-hunting menace, which has seen many innocent women being persecuted, tortured and even killed in Jharkhand, has also hit their family members who are ostracised by villagers.

The practice of witchcraft prevails in several districts of Jharkhand, particularly Gumla, as casualties are reported from there every so often.

Just last month on January 9, Pawan Khadia, 45, and his wife Muni, 42, were killed by unknown assailants at Jorag under Sadar police station in Gumla district.

The couple’s daughter Kumari stated in an FIR, “Some villagers called my mother ‘dayan’ (witch) and killed both her and husband.”

Her cousin Khusbu said that some villagers had convened a meeting sometime back on whose agenda was the topic ‘dayan’.

It is the same misery for siblings Bheron and Arjun of Birkera Tangritoli village, who had filed an FIR that their mother Butel Devi, 45, was brutally killed by unknown men on January 6.

There is an Act in the state “Prevention of Witch (DAAIN) Practices Act, 2001” to curb the crime, state minister for Social Welfare and Women & Child Development said.

She said, “Her department is engaged in spreading awareness among villagers to avail of medicines in the public health centres for any fever or disease instead of going to quacks.”

She attributed such superstitions to poverty and illiteracy.

The minister said, “It is a good idea if any health mission is attached in the campaign to eradicate malnourishment, one of the reasons cited for the social evil.”

The Jharkhand State Women’s Commission has planned to approach the government in this regard.

JSWC Chairperson Mahua Manjhi had on November 13 said the commission was planning to approach the government to add nutritional programmes in rural areas.

Welcoming Manjhi’s plan, the minister said even NGOs could come forward to help deal with the social menace.

Former Social Welfare Minister and BJP MLA Bimla Pradhan said, “Funds are sanctioned for eradicating the practice of witchcraft. During my time the department staged street plays to make people aware of the superstitions and asked them to go to the nearby public health centre for treatment.”

Pradhan said it had often been observed that when people in rural areas fall ill, they go to an ‘Ojha’ (quack) who brand some women as witches and hold them responsible for the disease, which leads to lynching.

The chairperson of Rural Litigation & Entitlement Kendra (RLEK), Avdhash Kausal, said though Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Orissa enacted the anti-witchcraft act, witch hunting had not yet stopped.

Kaushal said, “The forms of violence include torture, physical harm and gangrape. At times they are stripped and made to parade naked in the village.”

He quoted a survey to say that in the last 15 years more than 5,500 women across the country had been branded ‘witches’ and then killed.

Kaushal demanded a national law against the practice because the respective state acts have a provision for only three months imprisonment.

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