| Speakers at the conference in Ranchi on Monday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Ranchi, Dec. 19: Branded a witch, 40-year-old Chutni Mahto was thrown out of home along with four children by her in-laws, who wanted her share of ancestral property.
Refusing to accept the injustice, Seraikela-Kharsawan resident Chutni lodged a case at the Gamharia police station. That was some years ago. Today, Chutni not only leads a peaceful life but has also been instrumental in rescuing 35 other women branded witches like her.
At a daylong national conference on Atrocities faced by women labelling them as witches problems and solutions in the capital today, Chutni was present in person, an example of what grit and determination could achieve. The meet was organised by Jharkhand State Womens Commission.
However, Chutni is among the lucky few. According to data available from the National Crime Record Bureau, more than 2,500 women suspected of practising witchcraft were killed in India over the last 15 years.
While 175 cases of witchcraft related murders were reported in 2008 from various states, 522 killings in Jharkhand were linked to witchcraft allegations between 1991-2000, with most incidents taking place in the tribal belt.
According to speakers at the meet, witchcraft-related incidents usually took place in areas where there were no medical facilities, education and sanitation and also where land disputes are involved.
The speakers alleged that though laws were in place, they needed to be strengthened to nail the accused. As of now an accused usually spends upto three months in prison and pays a fine of Rs 1,000.
The Jharkhand Anti Witchcraft Act, 2001, is in force, but has not been able to curb the menace.
Terming the village ojha or witchdoctor as the root cause of the problem, chairperson of National Commission for Women Mamta Sharma said it was a grave problem that needed to be handled sensitively.
We need to sensitise stake holders about laws related to witchcraft, she said.
Speaking on the occasion, R. Vibha Rao, chairperson of State Commission for Women, Chhattisgarh, said strict laws were needed to stop the problem from escalating further.
In Lakhanpur district 50 women accused of being witches were tonsured while the entire village watched, she said.
She added that Chhattisgarh had formed committees comprising 20 women each, which function as Mahila Adalats. As soon as they report a case to us, we intervene, Rao said, adding that as many as 3,000 women were involved in dealing with such cases.
Throwing light on the acts and laws pertaining to witchcraft, Supreme Court advocate Tapesh Kumar Singh said India ranked fifth among 14 countries in the world where witchcraft was practised.
However, Singh stressed upon the fact that legislation needed to be strengthened.
Also present on the occasion were IG, CID Jharkhand Anurag Gupta and chairperson of Jharkhand Women Commission Hemlata S. Mohan.