West Midnapore, Nov. 21: Witch-hunting, literally, has put the district administration in a spot of bother.
Persons “condemned” by their community as witches in the district live in the perpetual fear of an assault by people looking for scape goats.
The district police are now working closely with NGOs, especially women, to spread awareness among the poor villagers about their superstitions and the crime they commit in attacking a person after branding him or her a “witch”.
There have been repeated attempts in the recent past to expel witches from their villages, seize their property or even burn them alive by provoking superstitious neighbours.
One person has been killed this year after being branded a witch. Houses of three other “witches” have been gutted by irate mobs. Three persons have been forced to leave their village. Police intervention has saved several more. Still, they are very insecure.
According to the police, 16 people have been ostracised this year. Fifteen “witches” live in the tribal-majority areas of the Jhargram subdivision.
“These incidents, more often than not, take place to illegally occupy property. We’ve found during our awareness campaigns in different villages that generally minors and widows without any male heir become easy victims,” said Swati Dutta of Suchetana, a voluntary organisation working for the cause of women.
Anjali Singh, a witch, and her two children escaped being charred to death on November 8 when their house at Noasai village under the Nayagram police station was set on fire.
Eleven people, including a CPM local committee member, were arrested. The investigators said Anjali, a middle-aged widow, was persecuted because some fellow villagers wanted to misappropriate her property.
District superintendent of police K.C. Meena said: “Several arrests have already been made and even political party workers who happen to be involved in such witch-hunting won’t be spared.”