Social evils like ‘witch hunting’ and other gender-based violence must be discouraged with strongest possible punishment to the perpetrators.
‘Witchcraft’ is still rooted in the rural background of our society and has been playing a big role in influencing the belief of the people. It seems to gain currency in areas with low developing trend. There is a wider belief that a person involved in so-called witchcraft inflicts harm upon the others. This notion has been passed from one generation to the next like a cruel legacy. Killings of women on charges of witchcraft are heard frequently Nepal but and the neighboring Indian states. A charity in Jharkahand reported that nearly 200 women are killed in India every year on witchcraft accusations. The case with Bangladesh and Pakistan is no different. In most cases, women have been the prime target.
Kristy, a boy from London was accused of sorcery and killed on the Christmas of 2010. This shows that even in developed country like the United Kingdom, “witch killing” remains a challenge. On 13th of January this year, a South African newspaper reported that fourteen people were accused of burning an elderly couple in Durban. In this case too, the couples were blamed for witchcraft. The history has gruesome evidence of witchcraft killings in Europe and Africa. The medieval Europe penalised the presupposed witches by hanging and burning whereas in the African countries, it is still a violent scourge.
In Nepal, the history is replete with many evidences. Most of the witch killings have occurred in societies with a low economic background. Dengani Mahato, a 40 year old woman from Madi village in Chitwan, was brutally killed few days ago. The mob accused her of black magic, beat her, poured kerosene in her body and set her on fire. The villagers silently watched her charred end. Nobody came to rescue her. In another incident, Lochani Devi from Sarlahi was severely beaten and fed with human faeces by the villagers who blamed her of practicing black magic. A 70 year old woman whose case was registered under women’s rehabilitation centre (WOREC, Nepal) had her teeth broken and a knife inserted on her vagina. These are a few cases amongst many that have become commonplace in the villages of our country.
The household members are predominantly involved in a majority of witch killings. In Dengani Mahato’s case, her relatives have been accused of involving in the crime. The allegations against witchcraft are particularly targeted against poor-, helpless women. This also indicates vehement gender based discrimination existing in the society. The victims have been subjected to horrendous punishment including beating, feeding human excreta, social exclusion, stoning and death. Too often, it’s the lonely, old and weak woman in the village falling prey to this crime.
Gender based violence in Nepal has basically victimised women from marginalised background. Witch hunt is one such form of violence nailed upon the women by our patriarchal society. The mental trauma that the accused goes through is irreparable. The psychological pain never lets them reinstate back into the society. The incidents of witch hunt over the years have shown a grave face of Nepal that needs to change immediately. The government has an active role to play in order to curtail the rising figures of this ordeal. Stringent punishment should be introduced to the culprits involved in such crimes. Strict rule of law will deter the practice of witch hunting, however it has to be simultaneously backed by extensive social campaigns. If we can fight ‘Sati’ and ‘Child Marriage’, witch hunting can also be tackled with the right legislation and social enlightenment. The state should launch massive awareness campaigns to tackle this gender disgrace. The civil society should be actively engaged in disseminating and participating in such promotions. NGOs add INGOs should work hand in hand with the local groups to curb this menace.
There must be so many women who are still living with the nightmare of being branded as ‘witches’. These women must be identified by the state and restored back to the society with dignity and respect they deserve. The society must proactively open up to stop further causalities. Nepal is dynamically adapting to a lot of new changes. Social evils like ‘witch hunting’ and other gender-based violence must be discouraged with strongest possible punishment to the perpetrators. Nepal desperately needs a separate national law against witch hunting. The proposed ‘Constituent Assembly’ should also look into this.