Opposition to witch hunting

Although witch hunting is an age-old practice in Assam and though it has become a serious issue since the nineties, there were not many organizations fighting against this. But the situation has become so critical now that quite a number of organizations have begun to raise their voices against it, to make people aware and to pressurize the government. ABSU (All Bodo Students Union), the apex student body of the Bodos, has launched a vigorous awareness campaign to fight against superstitions like witchhunting in the Bodo areas.

It has been campaigning since 2004, and since then, has successfully rehabilitated at least 40 innocent victims. The Assam Mahila Samata Societyhas also been doing much work in this field. Brothersis another NGO trying to raise a voice against such activities.

Intervention by the State

Project Prahariis a programme introduced by the police department of Assam in 2001 for the awareness of the people, but it did not come up actively on the issue till only a few months ago. Now, with the growing intensity of the problem, Project Prahariis working seriously on the issue and is actively organizing people through
awareness drives.

A woman crusader

Here, a name is worthy of being mentioned in the crusade against witch hunting; she is Birubala Rabha, from Thakurbila village in the Assam-Meghalaya border. She belongs to a very poor family. Her son was suffering from some ailments and the beztold the mother that he would die soon. But she protested, took him to a hospital, and he recovered. She joined the Assam Mahila Samata Societyin 1999 and dedicated her life to the cause of fighting against this cruel practice. Through her initiative, 34 women, who had been branded witcheswere saved. For her dedication, her name was nominated for Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. Although she is illiterate, she is determined and very brave. Now, under her leadership, Mission Birubalais working at the grass-root level and also forming cells in colleges for creating awareness among the common people.
There are some other NGOs also. Timely interference and proper investigation can save the situation from deteriorating. This has been proved by
Mission Birubalain a recent case of witch hunting in the river island of Majuli.

Law against witch hunting:

Strange to say, that though there are strict laws which have been formulated in different states, yet till now there is no such law in Assam. But the growing intensity of such criminal activities in the name of some beliefs has compelled the High court, also as a reaction to the PIL filed by a person, to instruct the government to take immediate steps for formulating laws against this practice and also to stop the activities of the Bezor Kaviraj. The rate of conviction is quite low as there is the problem of getting witnesses.

The level of success so far:

Recently, an overall serious concern has been seen in the society. There are suggestions coming from people, and there are programmes for awareness etc. But the main demand remains thinking seriously about developmental work in such areas, providing education, modern medical facilities, etc. Now there are demands for mobile health clinics, regular health camps, good educational institutions, village meetings in all the villages, as well as meetings in the tea garden areas, incorporating workers, leading NGOs, garden school teachers and doctors to discuss the situation and to make future planning.
There is also a demand for inclusion of chapters in the school curriculum against superstitions, and for developing a scientific outlook.

Conclusion: While concluding, it must be said that a proper scientific outlook must be developed, and for this, the Government, various organizations, leading personalities, sane village elders, youth and women
s organizations of the marginalized communities as well as cultural organisations and film makers must come out and unitedly free the people of such ignorance. The growing threat of religious revivalism should also be kept in mind as one of the greatest hurdles to progress. At the same time, laws against this age-old practice should be formulated and implemented by the administration with due seriousness.

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