Odisha villagers seek police permission to hire witch doctors for treating people with psychological disorder

The State has witnessed 600 murders over witchcraft violence in the past 10 years, claims a rationalist

Updated - August 25, 2023 10:23 am IST

Published - August 24, 2023 12:20 pm IST - BHUBANESWAR

In the little known Kotinada village in Odisha’s Ganjam district, a significant number of residents on Wednesday made an intriguing request for police permission — to engage the services of witch doctors, who, they believe, could ‘heal’ those afflicted with psychological turmoil.

Despite the Kotinada police’s sensible advice, redirecting villagers towards medical professionals in hospitals, the villagers remained resolute in their demand to seek psychotherapeutic assistance from witch doctors. This sheds light on the prevailing dominance of superstitions in the rural heartland of Odisha and awareness programmes failing to curb such behaviour among villagers.

“Villagers of Kotinada came to police station and wanted our permission to hire ‘Gunia’ (witch doctor) for treating three members of family having bouts of psychological disorder. We tried to explain to them that it comes in the domain of medical science, not to be dealt by witch doctor,” said Krushna Saha, Inspector In Charge of Kotinada Police Station.

Mr. Saha said, “we even warned them that if anyone goes against our advice they are liable to be punished  as per Odisha Prevention of Witch Hunting Act, 2013. We are keeping a close watch on them.”

However, the villagers are not convinced. “No medicine can treat people who are showing symptoms of erratic behaviour and shouting in loud voice. This is clear case of application of black magic on them,” Pabana Swain, vice-president of Kotinada village committee, said.

Ganjam’s witchcraft-related violence

Ganjam, the home district of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, is one of the worst-hit regions on account of witchcraft-related violence. Last year, 33 villagers including 20 women were arrested on allegations of beating a person to death in witchcraft-related attack in Madhurjhol village under Kabirsuryanagar police station limit of the district.

“Odisha has witnessed around 600 murders in the past 10 years due to people’s belief on sorcery and other practices of blind beliefs. Now, the State is also recording human sacrifices. Hundreds of villagers have been rendered homeless after facing attack on allegation of practising black magic,” Debendra Sutar, a rationalist, said.

Mr. Sutar said, “villagers must have faith in medical sciences not on witch doctors. The education and punitive action under Odisha Prevention of Witch Hunting Act, 2013 should go simultaneously. Moreover, scientific temper must be ingrained in children.”

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