Ranchi: Jharkhand, which was carved out of Bihar in 2000, records three incidents of witch hunt violence per day and at least 1,000 people have been murdered due to the superstition in the past 22 years and 90 per cent victims are women. Chutni Devi from Jharkhand’s Beerbans village in Saraikela-Kharsawan district, who faced extreme atrocities in the name of witch, was conferred with the fourth highest civilian award Padma Shri by President Ram Nath Kovind last year for rescuing and helping hundreds of women who have been facing atrocities over the years. When the daughter of a neighbour fell ill, Chutni was blamed for that and branded as witch. Panchayat imposed a fine of Rs 500 on her and charged that she wanted to kill the neighbour’s daughter. Chutni gave the fine but when the neighbor's daughter didn’t recover from illness, on the very next day, a group of 40 to 50 people attacked her house.

She was dragged out of the house, mercilessly beaten, urine and feces were thrown at her and she was stripped too. After the horrifying experience, Chutni started working for the upliftment of women and the fight against the superstition. Chutni’s campaign is still continuing but the roots of evil is so deep in Jharkhand that such incidents continue even today. In 2022 itself, five incidents of witch violence have been reported in the state. On January 2, few people superstitiously declared a woman of Lukya village in Sisai police station area of Gumla district as witch. 

When the woman’s sons Ajay and Sanjay Oraon protested against it, ten people tied them to a pole and thrashed them mercilessly. Ajay faced severe injuries to his eye. Police lodged a complaint against ten people including village gram panchayat chief Lakiya Devi. On January 30, police arrested four people, including a nurse Salomi Minj, working in Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) from Khunti for branding a woman as witch and murdering her. After killing the woman on January 27, the accused concealed the body in a car and left it in the forest under the Khunti police station area. 

During interrogation, Salomi said that her son Abhishek Tirkey had a sudden death and she had apprehension that her tenant Nora Lakda had taken his life by performing witchcraft.

On January 12, in Kudpani village in Thethai Tangar police station area in Simdega, a man identified as Flurence held another woman Jhariyo responsible for the death of his wife and branded her as witch. Flurence along with

his friends set Jhario afire. Till date, Jhario is fighting for her life in a hospital in Ranchi. On January 5, in Tirla villages of Adaki police station area in Khunti district, a couple was beaten to death on the suspicion of black magic. The incident remained unreported for five days, fearing assailant’s wrath. On February 23 last year, eight people axed five people to death in the name witchcraft in Gumla District. Three people have died due to different reasons in the past two months in a Buruhatu Aamtoli village, post which a panchayat was held which was attended by 80 people including an occultist. The occult practitioner told the villagers that deaths are happening because of Nikodin Topno and his family, post which panchayat decided to hack the family to death. Eight people got drunk and killed Nikodin, his wife Jospina, son Vincent, daughter-in-law Sheelwanti and garndson Albin. Nikodin’s granddaughter got saved as she was at her relative’s place that day. Police had arrested eight people in this connection. According to police figures, in the past seven years, every year 35 murders are reported in the name of witch-hunt and related violence. According to Crime Investigation Department (CID), in 2015, 46 women were killed after branding them as witch, 39 in 2016, 42 in 2017, 25 in 2018, 27 in 2019, 28 in 2020. The figures for 2021 have not been compiled yet but it is being said that it is nearly 24. In seven years, more than 230 have been killed.

Most of the harassment is faced at the hands of family and such incidents are reported when all limits are crossed. In 2021, the state brought in Witchcraft Prevention Act but the increasing number of such incidents need a review of the law. The need of the hour is to make the law stricter, fast track courts for early disposal of such cases and intensifying campaign to spread awareness about the witch-hunt. Jharkhand’s Rural Development Department secretary Manish Ranjan said that to eradicate the malpractice of witch hunt, the state government has been running Garima Pariyojana through Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society. 

The women who have been the victims of such violence are being associated with Sakhi Mandal to make them self-dependent. The affected women are being provided psychological counselling and legal aid. A total of 1,000 women who were affected have been identified. Over 450 affected women were provided employment opportunities through sakhi mandals making them self-dependent while around 600 were given psycholgical counselling.
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