Witch Hunting in Assam – Myth or Reality ?
Assam, a state popularly known for its evergreen tea estates, tradition and unfortunately, also well known for terrorist. Despite of having much advancement in various fields this land is always being ignored and isolated for various reasons. And it is very interesting to know that Mayong also known as the Land of Black Magic, is situated in Marigaon district of Assam, on the bank of the river Brahmaputra is considered as one of the biggest hub for black magic in Asia and also known as Indian capital of black magic. Witch hunting in now a major social stigmas in Assam.
Well being an Assamese I really feel disgusted and irritated….and yes it is quite natural to be like that!! And then I hear………….‘‘the body of one Sorak Narzary (50) of Samthaibari village was recovered from the banks of the Bhogjhora and the police said she might have been killed with sharp weapons by unidentified miscreants’’
‘‘15-year-old Pinki was orphaned overnight when villagers murdered her parents and her sister in early January. She survived by hiding in the forest.’’
‘‘Sushila and two other widows, Safina Bibi and Sagrina Bibi, were paraded as witches and thrashed by 15 men. Their public flogging carried on for about an hour’’
These above incidents happened in 2010, have one thing in common and that is the abhorrent and gruesome practise of Witch Hunting. Witch hunting is basically the search for witches or evidence of witchcraft, often involving moral panic, mass hysteria and lynching.
Witch hunts conjure images of 17th century Salem, The Crucible and perhaps even Monty Python. As a result of Enlightenment and Scientific revolution, the practise of Witch hunting subsided in the 18th century and has almost become the thing of the past for most of the countries.
But unfortunately we cannot say the same in case of India. In India this practice is still very much prevalent in states like Jharkhand, Bihar; Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, Assam etc. It is more widespread in rural areas where people have low literacy level and thereby more faith in illogical superstitious beliefs. Many women become unfortunate victims of this practice and die every year after being accused of witchcraft.
The state of Assam is also not alien to the practice of Witch Hunting. Recently in Assam, in the course of just few months, three women, Purni Basumatary (55), Madani Boro and Bifola Narzary (50), have been killed by miscreants who suspected them to be practicing witchcraft. In one the most horrific recent cases, a family of four of the Santhal tribe in Assam were stoned and buried alive for allegedly cursing a relative of the village chief .Like this, there are hundreds of Witch hunting cases still prevailing in the rural areas of Assam.
Over the past decade, it is very depressing that more than 400 women have been killed in the tea gardens and many remote villages in Assam. It is more rampant in Kokrajhar District of Assam.
In the present scenario, it has been observed that these kinds of witch hunting incidents have become more complex. Earlier, only women were targeted and were made the victims of this practice, but now in some of the cases, the entire family is targeted and killed even if only one member is accused. This has led to more number of killings. For instance, five members of a family in Sadharu tea estate in Biswanath Chariali of Sonitpur district in upper Assam were beheaded by their fellow villagers in March 2006.
When asked, Upen Rabha Hakasam who is a Professor at the Department of Folklore In Gauhati University says that the low socio-economic status of these tribes and communities in the state is a major reason why such practices continue.
Illiteracy, Backwardness and ignorance also causes people to believe in superstitious beliefs like ‘Black magic, Witchcraft’, which further led them to go for Witch hunting and punish the witch. Out of ignorance, these people develop this false belief that if a particular problem or some abnormal event has taken place in the village or to any person, it is because of a witch who has done ‘Black magic’. These so called witches are made responsible for failure of crops, epidemics, diseases, low birth rate etc. So they feel that if the suspected Witch is killed, all their problems will also go away. Because of these kinds of beliefs, Witch hunting has become so rampant in India. It is deeply rooted in the minds of a certain section of people.
Seeing the negative consequences of Witch Hunting, people from various organizations including the Government have come forward to eradicate this evil practice from our society.
In Assam, there is an apex student body of the Bodos called as the ‘All Bodo Students Union’ (ABSU), has launched a vigorous awareness campaign to fight against superstition of witch-practices in the Bodo-dominated areas. There is also a seventy year old lady named Biro Bala Rabha who has been waging a war against such crimes for the last 20 years of her life. Also, egged on by the Assam State Commission for Women, four government departments-social welfare, education, health and police are joining hands to fight against this evil practice.
A law known as the ‘The prevention of Witch Practices Act’ was also passed by the government in 1999 to fight against this practice. Many Non Government Organizations like Free Legal Aid Committee have also come forward to put an end to the practice of Witch Hunting. But this is not enough each and everyone have to wake up and put this stigma away and make the state truly beautiful from every corner.