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Assam alert on witch doctors

- Officials asked to step up vigil

Guwahati, Dec. 25: Dispur has asked deputy commissioners of all districts to prevent incidents of ojhas (witch doctors) torturing children because of superstitious beliefs.

The state government issued the directive after receiving a letter from the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) raising concerns over an incident that occurred in Nagaon district a few months back.

After receiving a letter by NCPCR member Vinod Tikoo last month referring to the Nagaon incident, the state government has directed the deputy commissioners to keep strict vigil in their districts in order to prevent any such incident, an official source said.

The deputy commissioners have been categorically told to handle such cases with utmost strictness, the source said.

“I wrote to the Assam government and sought an action-taken report after the alleged incident of a child being put through severe torture by an ojha in Nagaon district was brought to my notice. It is a matter of serious concern,” Tikoo told The Telegraph over phone from Delhi.

Tikoo said according to information available with him, such incidents often happen in the state to seek divine help to get rid of sickness and to ward off evil spirits suspected to have taken hold of the child.

Tikoo, whose term in the commission expired last month, said he had also asked the state government to launch an awareness campaign against such superstitious beliefs and practices.

He said the commission had recently received an action-taken report dated December 7 from the state government. The report was signed by Assam chief secretary Jitesh Khosla.

The report said according to information received from the sub-divisional medical and health officer in Nagaon, the child is now in good health.

“A case has been registered against the self-proclaimed ojha and it is currently pending before the court of chief judicial magistrate in Nagaon,” the report said.

It further mentioned that the state social welfare department has issued instructions to the State Child Protection Society to give wide publicity to the action taken against the culprit so that it acts as a deterrent to others.

According to the report, the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights has also been requested to hold programmes to sensitise people against such malpractices.

Even today, quacks and self-proclaimed ojhas or tantriks continue to dupe poor and uneducated people in certain rural pockets in the state where medical facilities are still a far cry.

In June this year, health department officials had raided the “chamber” of Manowara Khatun at Juria in Nagaon district after she allegedly operated on two women for gallstones and appendicitis.

Khatun, who claims to be a “god-gifted healer”, said she had used shaving blades to operate on her patients. Her patients confirmed the operations, saying they were “well” after the treatment.

Last Monday a woman killed her five-month-old son to appease a deity at Sonari in Sivasagar.