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HC admits witch-hunt PIL

Guwahati, Dec. 6: Gauhati High Court today admitted a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking action from the Assam government to end the illegal practice of “witch-hunting” that has claimed over 150 lives in the state since 2005.

The petitioner, high court lawyer Rajeeb Kalita, cited a story published in The Telegraph on December 2 that reported that the state government had cancelled its plans of allotting a plot of land to anti-superstition campaigner Birubala Rabha to set up a shelter home for victims of witch-hunting.

The 54-year-old activist from Goalpara had planned to set up a permanent shelter for women who had been branded as witches and rendered homeless. But the state government went back on its decision after some people living near the plot, which was supposed to be handed over to Rabha, launched protests.

The PIL sought a court order directing the state government to take immediate and appropriate measures to prevent witch-hunting and take stringent action against those committing the crime. It also sought proper rehabilitation of those branded as witches.

In the PIL, Kalita informed the court that the actual cause of such incidents was superstition among people, particularly in interior places devoid of proper healthcare facilities and education. “When maladies such as illness, death or financial loss occurs in a family, superstition leads them to believe that such maladies are caused by evil spells cast on them by others. Those accused of practising witchcraft are often hunted down and even ostracised by the community and the village. The lucky ones manage to save their lives but many are often killed,” the PIL said.

The petitioner’s lawyer, Bhaskar Dev Konwar, today said a division bench of the high court, comprising Justice T. Vaiphei and Justice Manash Ranjan Pathak, admitted the PIL (98/2013) and issued notices to the respondents to reply to the complaints by January 24.

“We attached a copy of The Telegraph report with the PIL to inform the court that even though Birubala Rabha had done commendable work for victims of witch-hunting and brought solace to many lives, the government cancelled plans to provide her land to build a shelter home,” Konwar said.

Respondents to the PIL include the chief secretary, commissioner and secretary of the revenue and disaster management department, the state home department, social welfare department, health and family welfare department, Assam Police, Assam State Legal Service Authority, Assam Commission for Women and the circle officer of Dudhnoi in Goalpara.

The PIL also cited a CID report that said 132 people had been killed in witch-hunts between 2002 and 2012. Fourteen people had been killed in 2012 alone.