Make ‘witch branding’ an offence, suggests panel

Odisha women’s commission wants urgent action

February 11, 2022 11:02 pm | Updated 11:08 pm IST - BHUBANESWAR

The Odisha State Commission for Women (SCW) has sought stringent provisions in the Odisha Prevention of Witch Hunting Act 2013 while demanding that branding of victims also be treated as heinous crime and punishable in the State.

The State women panel found inadequacy in the existing Act after it went through findings of a research it had commissioned in 12 districts.

Identifying, causing, stigmatising, defaming or accusing any person by words or signs or any actions is witch branding and subsequent abetting physical or mental harm, injury or harassment which may involve mass frenzy, sexual or emotional violence should be punishable, the SCW said.

The women commission wanted both jail and pecuniary punishment for persons found involved in branding and hunting in sorcery related violence. While branding of a person should attract not less than one year of jail term and fine not less than ₹1 lakh, persons hurting a person physically should be punished more than one year imprisonment and penalty of ₹5 lakh or both. The witch doctors should also be equally treated as complicit in the crime. Punishment of life imprisonment has penal been sought for person who drive a person to commit suicide in witch branding case.

The women commission urged the government to make penalty provisions for people attributing misfortune to others. It also wanted more severe punishment for people convicted for second time under the Act.

It recommended State government to set up special courts for providing speedy trial in all cases witch branding and hunting districts. “It shall be the duty of State government to establish adequate number of courts to ensure that cases of witch branding and hunting and offences under the Act are disposed of within a period of 60 days,” the SCW said.

The SCW stressed on the need for government taking responsibility of rescue, rehabilitation, treating and bearing legal expenses of victims. It further emphasised on preventing violence through swift response of police administration.

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