‘Perpetrators of this crime were motivated and propelled by the greed for land, property and revenge'

Students, women activists, and social workers in the backward North-Eastern States are concerned over the increasing killings of men and women after being branded as witches in some remote areas in Assam.

They fear that this social menace will soon spread to the other States as the same factors and illiteracy are prevalent in the entire region.

What is causing concern among them is that in the past, the villagers used to banish men and women branded as witches from their respective villages. But from early 1990s, the villagers had started killing these “witches” and most of the victims are women. While the police and the government are accused of turning a blind eye to this, the killings are increasing. So far over 120 “witches” have been killed in Assam in the last 10 years.

Worst hit

In the entire region, Assam is the worst hit by this superstitious practice. A close examination, however, shows that the perpetrators of this crime were motivated and propelled by the greed for land, property and revenge. Police say that the prime accused persons are those who stand to gain at the death of the branded witches.

Another strong motive is to settle scores with the quacks who fail to save the ailing persons. As modern healthcare facilities and hospitals are non-existent in the rural areas of these States, quacks of all hues are doing a roaring business. Witch killings are reported mostly in the monsoon season in view of the outbreak of several deadly diseases. When an ailing person could not be saved despite administering herbal concoctions, the quacks and ‘shamans' are branded and killed in revenge by the family members.

Doctors and paramedical staff posted in the remote rural and mountain areas never go there, with the result that the villagers have to depend on these quacks many of whom have even started prescribing modern medicines. The people are concerned over the increasing killings of these quacks in Assam after being thus branded as witches.

Several women activists and the Assam State Commission for Women are not happy with the police inaction and the lack of political will. They are not happy that the government is not even launching an awareness campaign among the people.

No arrests

The police claim of having arrested the criminals has not served as a deterrent since there are increasing instances of killings. Some non-governmental organisations are mulling over the possibility of launching massive awareness campaigns in some of the North-Eastern States.

The All-Bodo Students' Union (ABSU), an organisation of the tribal students, has launched an awareness programme among the villagers. During the campaign launched from 2004, at least 45 persons, who were banished from their respective villages after being branded witches, had been rehabilitated. The government has not extended a helping hand towards the rehabilitation of these persons. Besides, no financial solarium was given to the bereaved family members of the slain “witches.”