The Telegraph
Wednesday , December 18 , 2013
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Majuli move to counter witchcraft

- Film to generate awareness against superstitions in Assam

Jorhat, Dec. 17: The Majuli island administration has decided to screen an Assamese feature film, Jangfai Jonak by filmmaker Sanjib Sabhapandit, in vulnerable areas of the Brahmaputra island to create awareness against witch-hunting.

The movie, screened in 70 countries across the globe after being selected in the Indian Panorama section, is a story on witch-hunts. The screening will be part of medical-cum awareness camps in seven areas of Majuli where superstitions rule and people believe that diseases are often the outcome of witchcraft.

The move comes in the wake of two incidents of witch-hunting on the island in the last two months. Innocent villagers were branded witches and “purification ceremonies” conducted. It is believed that some persons practising witchcraft were behind illness and other unfortunate incidents.

The persons suspected of performing witchcraft are identified by villagers who claim to have been possessed by Hindu gods and goddesses. Innocent persons are forced to confess to practising witchcraft and are subsequently tortured and killed.

The administration has recently cracked the whip against witch-hunting by arresting six persons in the last 20 days and warning gaonburahs (village headmen) of legal action against them if any incident of torture is not reported to police immediately.

Majuli subdivisional officer (civil) Laya Madduri told The Telegraph today that as part of a plan to create awareness against superstitious beliefs, the administration has decided to organise medical screening-cum awareness camps by doctors and paramedical staff in certain areas where such beliefs are “very strongly” embedded.

She said people would be told that in case of any health-related problems, they should not visit a bez (quack) as whatever medicines he prescribes have no rational basis.

Madduri said the people would be made to understand that diseases are not caused by any black magic. People should visit the nearest primary or sub-health centres if they have any ailment.

“At such camps, we plan to screen Jangfai Jonak by Sabhapandit. The film is about a village where an innocent girl is branded a witch and killed while a boy is made to believe to be possessed by a god who can offer solutions to villagers’ problems.”

Madduri said by screening the movie, people would be made to realise that there is not an iota of truth in what they believe. They will be told that they are committing heinous crimes.

Sabhapandit told this correspondent from Guwahati that he would be happy if screening of his film contributes to efforts to do away with witch-hunting.

“The very aim of the movie is to show the fallacy propagated by some people who are committing terrible crimes like torturing innocents and murdering them,” Sabhapandit said.

“I have visited many places affected by witch-hunting across Assam and saw how such false beliefs are invoked for pursuing malicious activities,” the filmmaker said.

He said the movie shows how a little boy is made to be believe that he is a Shiva incarnate and is forced to stay in a temple while a woman is branded a witch by a malicious character after he failed to get sexual gratification from her.