Other States

Women suffer as witch-branding assumes alarming proportions

Women in Odisha have been at the receiving end as witch-branding has assumed proportion of a big social evil in villages across the State.

Activists, women rights groups and academicians urged for intervention at government as well as society level to fight the social menace.

At a two-day-long seminar ‘Women’s Rights Violation due to Witch-Branding’ organised by NGOs ActionAid and Dalit Adhikar Sangathan supported by the UNFPA, experts said single, widowed and divorced women were increasingly becoming targets of powerful groups, who were adopting witch-branding as easy method of taking them down at village level.

As per an estimate, 356 persons have been murdered in sorcery-related incidences in Odisha since 2010. This year, 61 murders linked with superstitious belief have been executed. Experts participating in the event said this statistics was based on newspaper reports, which mean 356 killing was conservative estimate and actual figure could be much more than that.

“Numerous interviews of victims of witch-branding indicate that single, separated and never-married women are targeted by vested interest groups either for the purpose of land grabbing or sexual favour,” said B. N. Durga of ActionAid.

Mr. Durga pointed out that women are not organised and nobody in the villages come forward to support them.

Speaking on the occasion, Deepa Prasad, State Programme Coordinator of United Nations Population Fund, said: “The medieval practice was prevalent in Europe and other developed nations about 500 to 600 years ago. The same is in practice in some African countries and India. Such a large number of witch-branding violence suggests we are 500 years behind other countries.”

“An analysis of murders and violence gives a clear pattern. Witch-branding is a conspiracy to grab land or punish women who are not obliging with sexual favours. Society needs to combat the menace unitedly,” Ms. Prasad said.

Activists said there is no significant effort on the ground to clamp down perpetrators of witch-hunting in the State even as the Odisha Prevention of Witch-hunting Act, 2013, came into force in February 2014. Police officials dealing with these cases often book accused as per IPC clauses while more stringent new Act was hardly applied.

Ghasiram Panda of ActionAid said massive awareness about witch-branding needed to be launched in affected districts such as Ganjam, Mayurbhanj, Sundargarh, Keonjhar and Gajapati.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 2:54:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/women-suffer-as-witchbranding-assumes-alarming-proportions/article7910161.ece

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