Branded witch, these women are scarred forever
Binay Singh, TNN | Mar 17, 2011, 10.38pm IST
VARANASI: It is impossible for Jagesari Devi (32), a tribal woman of
Sonebhadra district, to forget the fateful day when she became a
victim of witch hunting and her tongue was chopped off. She was
branded a 'dayan' (witch) by a local 'ojha' (sorcerer). Though her
wounds have healed, the scars remain forever. The unforgettable
nightmare has rendered the Holi festival colourless for her.
"Am I really a dayan," wonders Jagesari, wife of Ramashankar and a
native of Karahiya village under Dudhi police station in Myorpur Block
of Sonebhadra district. Following this inhuman act of others, today
she can neither speak properly nor can eat or drink with ease.
In her testimony to a human rights organisation, Peoples Vigilance
Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), she narrated her ordeal with the
hope to get justice.
The daughter of her brother-in-law Sahdev died due to illness on
August 1, 2010. When she went to his house to condole the death, she
saw that a local sorcerer was also present there. He started claiming
that Jagesari was a dayan and had caused the death. Soon, the orthodox
people were supporting the man who chopped off her tongue in
punishment. She cried out for help, but no one heard her cries.
Somehow, her husband managed to rush her to a hospital for treatment.
"After being labelled a witch and facing physical torture and social
humiliation, how can she be expected to lead a normal life?"
questioned Lanin Raghuvanshi of PVCHR. The PVCHR, in association with
the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims of Denmark,
organised a programme of public hearing recently in the city to hear
the story of Jagesari and other such victims of witch hunting. The
volunteers tried to document the cases of witch hunting in remote
villages of Sonebhadra.
According to Raghuvanshi, poor and low-caste women are easily branded
as witches, mostly in tribal areas. The woman once branded a witch
finds it impossible to get rid the stigma. She is subjected to violent
acts like physical torture and social humiliation, even to the extent
of being stripped naked.
Manbasia (45) is another woman who has been subjected to inhuman
ordeal in Ghaghari Tola Sahgora village, under Babhani police station,
in Myorpur block of Sonebhadra district. After the demise of a boy in
the village, she was not only attacked with sharp weapons but also
paraded naked in public on July 17, 2010. "I was not a dayan, then why
was I paraded naked?" she questioned. Her husband Jodhilal said he had
to mortgage his land for his wife's treatment.
However, officials of both police stations categorically denied that
such cases had ever taken place in their respective areas. Both
Vijaymal Singh Yadav, inspector of Dudhi police station, and Asharam
Goyal, inspector of Babhani police station, when contacted over phone
on Thursday told TOI that they had no information about witch hunting
or practice of witchcraft in their area. However, in another case of
witch hunting, a woman Somari Devi (40), wife of Dinesh Gond and
native of Baliyari village under Dudhi police station, was also
humiliated on January 14, 2011. A local native after branding her a
witch, pushed her into fire. Her saree was burnt, however, her husband
saved her. In her testimony, she alleged that the police did not
register her complaint. Instead of punishing the culprit, the police
let him off scot-free, she said.
Raghuvanshi says there are many factors responsible for the prevalence
of witch hunting. One of the reasons is socio-economic. Generally
witch hunters do so for property (grabbing) reasons. Sometime women
become victims for refusing sexual advances. But, in most of the
cases, women suffer because they are unable to get any help from the
society. "Most of the cases go unreported," he said and added "police
do not play a positive role in stopping harassment of women in the
name of witchcraft practice."
"We are forwarding the testimonies of these women to the National
Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to draw its attention towards this
social evil and get victims of witch hunting some justice,"
Raghuvanshi said and added it was vary sad that the human rights of
women were being violated openly in the name of witchcraft practice.
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